Iraq slowly builds a stable, prosperous democracy

By Thomas J. Raleigh
Sunday, October 24, 2010

BAGHDAD

Viewed from afar, Iraq is not a place that always lends itself to optimism. Those who have been here for a while, however, and have witnessed the enormous improvement in the security situation can put occasional setbacks in perspective.

Are we frustrated that it is taking so long for the Iraqi lawmakers elected in March to form a government? Sure. But we are pleased that the caretaker government is keeping government offices open and functioning. Are we concerned about the recent uptick in violence? Of course. But the majority of the Iraqi people -- the targets of horrific, high-profile attacks -- have demonstrated repeatedly that they reject retribution.

In the past year, Iraq conducted parliamentary elections that international observers judged to be fair and credible. Iraqi security forces carried out increasingly sophisticated operations in an increasingly professional manner. The country entered into contracts for oil field development and production with consortiums of leading international oil companies.

Significant political, economic, security and rule-of-law challenges compel us to prioritize our efforts as we pursue our long-term objectives, guided by the Strategic Framework Agreement: a sovereign, stable, democratic and increasingly prosperous Iraq, which will dramatically change the strategic landscape of the Middle East and contribute to peace and security in the region. Let's imagine how things here might look in the future.

By 2025, the ethno-sectarian tensions deriving from the struggle for power and resources will have receded through years of patient negotiation and sustained U.S. diplomatic engagement. Efforts to establish the rule of law as a guiding governance principle are likely to remain a key focus. Having worked with Iraqi civil society, we will have embedded the culture of human rights in legal, judicial and national security institutions. Meanwhile, institution- and capacity-building, through a range of U.S. Agency for International Development programs, will keep contributing to Iraq's development.

Our decision to establish U.S. diplomatic posts beyond Baghdad, including consulates in Irbil and Basra, will have proved wise. Embassy branch offices in Nineveh and Kirkuk will have provided vital platforms to support our efforts to prevent conflict and encourage political accommodation. Honest brokers from the international community will have assisted the Baghdad government and the Kurdistan Regional Government in resolving issues related to the disputed internal boundary and the status of Kirkuk.

Iraq will be exporting increasingly significant amounts of oil to the world market, approaching 4 million barrels per day in 2015. Wise investments in infrastructure and education, increased foreign investment, and progress toward World Trade Organization accession will have set the conditions to develop a globally integrated, diversified and market-oriented economy, the key pillars of which will be energy, agriculture and a vibrant private sector.

An important indicator of lasting peace will be the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, thanks to aid and persistent engagement from the United States. Iraq will have also reestablished constructive ties with key neighbors. Relations with Kuwait, for example, will benefit from full resolution of the Kuwait-related Chapter VII Security Council resolutions in 2011 and final resolution of all land and maritime border issues in 2012. Iraq will have joined the Gulf Cooperation Council as an observer, and full membership will be under discussion.

In terms of regional security, Iraq will have taken concrete steps to redress decades of mistrust and mutual suspicion with its neighbors. Bilateral arrangements and programs will eventually have provided the basis for noteworthy multilateral initiatives. (This year, we coined the term "rock soup diplomacy" to describe this process.) We envision that in 2025, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia will implement a multilateral agreement to pursue greater transparency in military affairs. Eventually, a multi-dimensional regional security organization (perhaps a trimmer version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) may emerge to address such common regional security issues as border security, terrorism, proliferation and refugees. In the meantime, U.S. Central Command will continue to assist Iraq and its neighbors with many of these issues.

Meanwhile, Iran will be feeling increasingly isolated. While Iraq reaps the benefits of increased trade, decades of sanctions continue to take their toll on Iran, and the thousands of Iranian pilgrims who visit Iraq each year will see it. As the Iraqi standard of living rises, Iranian leaders will eventually find themselves confronting an economic "comparative crisis" much like that East German leaders confronted in the 1980s as their people looked enviously "over the wall." The instability of the Iranian regime, and its attempts to influence Iraqi political life and to infringe on Iraq's borders, contribute to Iraq's desire to maintain close diplomatic and defense ties with the United States.

The enduring partnership between Iraq and the United States will have deepened. Exchanges and outreach will have assisted democratic and economic development, promoted the preservation of Iraq's archaeological heritage, and contributed to the development of mutual understanding and respect between Iraqis and Americans. Between 2003 and 2015, nearly 10,000 Iraqi scholars, educators, jurists, engineers and doctors will have participated in various exchange programs in the United States, going on to serve in senior government positions, teach in universities and lead the "hottest" Iraqi firms.

Iraq occupies a central place in the Arab and Muslim world; it is home to Shiite Islam's holiest sites and occupies a strategic position in a challenging neighborhood. A stable and secure Iraq that enjoys constructive relations with its neighbors will contribute significantly to regional stability. This ambitious vision is achievable if the United States allocates sufficient resources to its enduring diplomatic presence and continues to coordinate its efforts with the government of Iraq and key international partners.

The writer has served as a strategic planner at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad since August 2008. The views expressed here are his own.


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