What’s Ur Role in This

Development and conflict has a unique reciprocal relationship in the sense that poorly planned and misdirected development begets conflict and vice versa. In a short span of the previous 60 years, Iraq has endured continuous thrust of violence, oppression, and degradation of national autonomy. In the brief moments of respite, development under many roles is steadfast, but the efforts have been short lived as another conflict or crisis arises and sets movement in reverse.

Brief Timeline of Key Events

In the absence of obscure lines one can see that Iraq’s previous 60 years of undisputed discord ultimately impacted the Iraqi people rendering them unable to seek refuge today.

Prior to the nationalist revolution in 1958, Iraq was a developed state; with stable infrastructure, municipalities, and promising oil industry prospective.

In a 60 year span:

  • 8 political shifts which all involve conflict
  • 3 major external conflicts
  • 3 major sectarian entities rule over regions of Iraq (Kurdistan, Sunni-Ba’ath Sympathizers, The Capital which is the remaining Shia majority in Iraq)
  • IDP and refugees are over 3.4 million and counting
  • Food, Shelter, Safety, and Medical Supply scarcities are consecutively unending

Peering into the current situation one would have to be blind to miss the effect of short-lived cessations of development and immediate occurrence of conflict in Iraq. The cycle has now resulted in 3.3 million Iraqi people displaced, the unhinging of government and policy, and fueled sectarian tensions all whilst the decline of the crude oil, the major export in which national revenue is dependent on dwindles.


Development roles become obscure as external and internal pressures accumulate, especially in addition to the pre-existing fragility, a nation endures while in conflict or crisis. In 2016, development is still an undefinable and mutable concept with many, many facets. Not only does the philosophy of development change, it has a causative facet of change itself. In conflict, development is either in favor or in opposition to autonomy seekers. In the case of Iraq, the roles play both friend and foe as the nation struggles for reclamation and seems to be only a blink of time when Iraqis had autonomy together.

In this blog key roles of development make cameo appearances of Iraq’s recent 60 year history. In the latter part of the 20th century, Iraq’s conflict situation escalated immensely, as it gained prominent media attention after Iraq’s invasions and conflict with neighboring Iran and Iraq. The decade before and after these conflicts illuminate the political role of development. Immediately ensuing the conflicts, international pressures and sanctions were placed on Iraq. Said pressures vehemently decreased traditional developmental efforts, and the role of development began to shift from political to humanitarian as national interests superseded the responsibility of all the Iraqi people; as opposed to those only supporting the ruling government sect.

Infrastructure began to decline, water sources were rerouted, and people began to displace in the thousands. This shift of roles lasted well into the first part of the 21st Century as the world once again witnessed Iraq’s conflict on a global scale. After 9/11 and the Invasion of 2003, the world saw large-scale development mantled as humanitarian aid.

Previously mentioned, reconstruction was one role of development as the entire nation was recuperating from the De-Baathification Era (2003-2005). Soon to follow reconstruction was political and economic development as Iraq began holding elections and the new Constitution for the Republic of Iraq (ROI) was voted in. However, tensions between autonomy seekers caused another upheaval as the oil prices dropped and debt began to accrue rapidly. In 2004-2005 the tensions mentioned are simply the result of Shia sects in governmental power and lack of inclusion of Sunni population, which previously had the majority political influence. There is a plethora of information available as to what causes these tensions, some opinion and some fact, but that is useless at this point. The assumptions of who is causing the tensions became factual when the “insurgency” was claimed openly by ISIS and like sympathizers. The important thing to keep in mind is that regardless of the violent and obscenely criminal nature of the rebellion, the sect still falls under the umbrella of autonomy seekers. The changing role of development has impacts that can be seen clearly and is evidenced by the further division of a nation, which is already branched by sect.

Still, the imbalance and fall short of Iraq with efforts to stabilize its own nation (political development), resulted in vulnerabilities that have been piled up over the previous decades. This coupling created a prime target for the uprising of an insurgency and the retard of all progress towards stability, save the southern governates.

This stage of developmental transitioning (into humanitarian), much like the “Fight or Flight” mechanism in the human nervous system, marked another event in which development reverts to survival.

The interchangeable tottering of economic, political, and humanitarian roles of development is the major influencing factor that procured Iraq’s acquisition of the national turmoil we see today.

Please refer to Timeline at the end of this blog for further details and chronological list of development roles and related shifts.

Economic Development

It was a surprise to find that prior to the Ba’ath Party and numerous rebellious coups, Iraq was a developed nation state under the British Monarch. The oil industry was efficient and provided revenue to begin further infrastructural development; dams, hospital, and medical training facilities. Alas, there was an unwanted occupancy that procured developmental ‘successes as opposed to achieving that success via national autonomy. Autonomy also playes a large role in development…discusses later.

Shortly after the second round of military coups, and the genesis of the Ba’athist Regime, Iraq had obtained some sovereignty. In the 1970’s the economy had what seemed to be a steadying boom. According to researchers at San Jose State University, the following policies took effect:

  • Cancelation of payment for redistributed lands
  • Subsidized prices for basic consumer commodities
  • Welfare services
  • Establishment of agricultural cooperatives to provide subsidized seed and fertilizers

Iraq was the 3rd largest producer of oil in 1979 as oil fields became nationalized. IRRF was a major actor in revitalizing the oil sector in 2006 when the industry suffered impacts of inadequate maintenance and production. To date, several thousand projects for all sectors have commenced and The World Bank has kept in-depth records of such projects as well as outcomes.

Key Highlights of Economic – Political Overlap: When Development Reverses

  • Kurdish and Iraq Currency with different conversion rates (in favor of the Kurdish currency)
  • National prioritization of neighboring territorial conquests while infrastructure declined
  • Poorly planned irrigation and water extraction from marshlands
  • Inadequate Site Location of the Construction of the Mosul Dam

Political Development

General Qasim, painted in a neutral light, was a dictator of anti-sectarian values and had compassion for the poor. His coup to overthrow the Hashemite Monarch brought all sects together with a common nationalist goal. During the time frame of the Monarch rule there was Shia oppression and an overall discord as they were cast as peasants; which would ultimately play a role in 2005 when the new constitution and elections placed Shia members in control of Iraq. Assuming history repeats itself, there will be many coups in order for Sunni sympathizing insurgents in hopes to regain control of Iraq.

Fast forward to a hypothetical future…what do you see? Do you see the defeat or victory of the insurgents? Do you see the foreign influence again? Now rewind to the post Ba’ath Era and imagine if there was never any UN, U.S. or Coalition Forces. Would you see the same numbers and statistics of Iraqi Human Rights violations and crisis? Would the number be the same? Which sect would have the highest numbers? These are the questions that are realy discusses in public forums. When nations make the choice to shift politics, or cooperatively intervening in foreign politics, these potent topics seems to be overlooked and justified under other roles of development. When does political development become a risk to pass up on in order to prevent a potential humanitarian crisis on such a large scale?

Humanitarian Development

Another unique distinction of Iraq’s affairs in regards to development is that Humanitarian Aid is a role in which development has a scaffolding facet and has been the repeating result of economic and political development.

Initially, humanitarian assistance began in the 1970’s as the Ba’ath Regime inflicted many hardships for the Iraqi people. The timeline below highlights conflict correlated aid provisions, and does not include the enormous amounts of aid over the years to date. In the mid 1990’s an water borne diseases increased as potable water was scarce and lack of medical resources were limited. In 1999 the infant mortality rate doubled causing the inevitability of foreign involvement. From 1990-2002 the UN placed several heavy sanctions on Iraq as a result of the border conflicts with Kuwait. At this time in history the United Nations, U.S. and Coalition Forces are the major actors in the shift from the political development role to humanitarian aid, where the lines become invisible and human rights violations become the catalyst for yet another conflict.

Impact Echoes

Development is often shadowed with stigmas of exploitation. Return of investments, agreeable and profitable quarterly reports, and procuring future investments, play a role in development opportunities. In the Middle East the exploitation of oil and its related industry is under great scrutiny, as it should be, however in the case of Iraq, development leans heavily in the humanitarian corner as there is little to exploit save the last hope residing in the southern governates.

In the extreme cases of development, where conflict is a major contributor to the need of development or aid, there seems to be a trend of common factors. One common factor is the preliminary involvement by key international organizations like The United Nations, UNICEF, The World Bank, thousands of NGO’s, and WHO. The upside of the mentioned organizations’ involvement being there is not simply one nation or government involvement and in turn reducing the possibilities of colonization and exploitation. Of course, these organizations can succumb to external and internal political influences which damages the integrity of development and foreign aid, potentiating tensions that cause conflicts.

Autonomy: Borders within Borders

As mentioned in previous blogs, resilience plays a big role in development as well. As the north engages in heavy conflict and crisis, the southern governates use resilience and keep the momentum of development going all while remaining autonomous.

  • Kurdistan has been officially autonomies and given a form of plight as a sovereign entity however tensions grow as they become more and more independent of the ROI
  • In April 2016 Trevi contractors begin the process of repairing the Mosul dam. If they are successful they will be able to prevent the impending death of over a half of million people. The Italian engineers and contractors have implemented a plan of repair which also includes the training of Iraqis so they can efficiently maintain the dam once the project commences. This latest development project, like many before, has a vulnerability as the consistent problem of insurgency poses another threat by inhibiting resource attainment. It has been reported that the security risks pose a greater threat to the workers.
  • Thi-Qar/Nassiryia, NESPAK Irrigation, capitol approval for governing authorities (previous blog)
  • Basra made headway recently with oil exports

Ur Lessons Learned

The biggest take away is not the semantics of which development lines are blurred, erased, or crystal clear. It is important in the aspect of cause and effect of careless development practices and even more miniscule when compared to the efficacy of a nation and its people who suffer.

I happened upon a report from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) which discusses lessons learned in regards to Iraq’s De-Ba’athification. I found the process steps to be potent in regards to a framework to incorporate in the phases of development with nations who are in a conflict or crisis state.

A Bitter Legacy: Lessons of de-Baathification in Iraq, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

 Abdulrazzaq Al-Saiedi, and Miranda Sissons

 Abdulrazzaq Al-Saiedi is a human rights researcher and former ICTJ consultant specialising in the Middle East and North Africa. Miranda Sissons was head of the Iraq program at the International Center for Transitional Justice from 2005-2008. A former Australian diplomat, she has authored numerous publications on human rights and the law of armed conflict in the Middle East.

 Lessons Learned

  1. Design a vetting program, not a purge. De-Baathification dismissed people based on rank, not behavior, and this created serious problems. Establish clear criteria to use when vetting, and be certain that your vetting procedure meets basic due process standards. If it does not, you risk creating an incoherent, ineffective, and unnecessarily controversial program.
  2. Know your target. Without accurate data, your program risks being impractical and ineffective. It could also create severe capacity problems. If you don’t have such data, pursue a more limited initiative while you gather the information you need.
  3. Set clear, realistic objectives. A vetting program is a tool that uses certain criteria to assess a person’s suitability to be a government employee. The program cannot by itself reform the public sector or deliver justice to victims. Be mindful of any capacity problems and where possible take steps to mitigate them.
  4. Don’t create a monster. The framework, powers, and oversight of any vetting program should be defined clearly, and it should be carried out for a limited period of time. Be sure the leadership broadly represents the makeup of your country’s population and is insulated from electoral politics.
  5. Consult and educate. Do not create a program without consulting the people who it is meant to serve. Their ideas and knowledge may differ from your preconceptions or may vary strongly among different groups.
  6. Look to the future. Design a program with criteria that can help protect against future abuse: think about promotion, recruitment, and other procedures, not just dismissals.

If practical, use your experience in the program to develop ideas for future reforms.

  1. Observe basic standards of fairness. This is strongly related to the first lesson. Fairness is not just a legal issue—it protects a vetting program from political manipulation and increases public confidence. Vetting programs are always controversial. By adhering to administrative due process standards (which are simpler than judicial standards), you can minimize needless controversy and focus on your program goals.

Iraq has quite the journey ahead. Since I left in 2006 I have thought continuously about the welfare of the Iraqi people as they are never far from my thoughts.In this course, I have had the opportunity to peer in closer and research as much as possible. I hope that I was able to deliver to you a view of Iraq in light of development on both a large and small scale. In review, development plays many roles and can often be defined in innumerable ways, however; there is a strong need for fine tuning of the roles that development plays as well as limits to authorities.

Iraq Timeline