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

Where Ur Resilience Lies

Seven-year-old Samer is a shy Yazidi girl, but like many of the displaced children she has a flair for the camera. After having her picture taken, she does not like it and wants another, striking a pose, staring into the camera with no smile. When asked why she is here, she says "Da'esh" (the pejorative term for Islamic State in Arabic) and when asked if she is afraid of it, she defiantly says "no". Samer says she is not afraid of the jihadist militants. By Suzanne Kianpour, BBC News, Dohuk, northern Iraq. August 2014.
Seven-year-old Samer is a shy Yazidi girl, but like many of the displaced children she has a flair for the camera. After having her picture taken, she does not like it and wants another, striking a pose, staring into the camera with no smile. When asked why she is here, she says “Da’esh” (the pejorative term for Islamic State in Arabic) and when asked if she is afraid of it, she defiantly says “no”. Samer says she is not afraid of the jihadist militants. By Suzanne Kianpour, BBC News, Dohuk, northern Iraq. August 2014.


At the pick-up location, one of the worker’s son had went with him to see his father’s place of employment. He was maybe 8 or 9 years old. “Madam! Madam!” he yells. I went over to him and his father and met the boy eye level. The translator told me that he was offering me his hand in marriage. At first I chuckled, which was rude, but quickly recovered. I asked the translator to explain how I could not accept, and he just looked at me. I looked back at the boy and I could see he was very serious. After a few awkward seconds I reached into my pack and offered him a Pepsi and a candy bar. He threw the Pepsi but kept the sweets. He seemed very upset. I asked the translator how serious this situation was and he told me that marriage brings hope. I tried my very best to leave this boy with some hope…so I asked the translator to explain that I would be a horrible wife. The boy laughed and seemed to accept the rejection. I believed then, that reliance lies within a child’s ability to hope.

Let’s Talk Resilience

I often wondered, and still do, how regions of a conflict nation can remain resilient. I saw firsthand the effects of the north had on the southern region back in 2006. With fewer hours of electricity and potable water, I was aware of the strains that effected the rural regions of Iraq but more importantly I caught a glimpse of how it effects the future generations.

Resilience, in terms of crisis and development, is gaining much attention. The concept of resilience encompasses an array of ideologies and theories; some practical and some unreasonable but with good intentions. Depending on the context it may seem resilience lies at the core of survival or is the new shiny concepts for appropriating funds. Either way it exists, and may be the only stronghold for the Iraqi people.

To date, I have been introduced to many definitions of resilience, mostly linear, and limited to an idea (abstract) rather than an innate component of the human being (credence of resilience). Resilience is both an innate and acquired trait. The focus in this blog has a binary element to resilience and it is generational. Two generations are of importance; the adults and the adolescents. Infants and toddler resilience depends heavily on the resilience of the caretaker, usually a parent or older sibling. The mothers and fathers care-taking abilities are tested, and have been for decades, due to the void of respite. As mentioned before, strong conflict exists in the north of Iraq and Mosul has many vulnerabilities to overcome. In southern Iraq, the burden of war has a different shade of grey. In southern Governates, the disparity is less dense intermittently and often seems if there is no war at all (Al-Khatteeb) which could very well be the catalytic component of a positive shift for Iraq.

Resilience Concentration

Because of the potential resilience boom in the south, government must move quickly and cease the opportunities. Southern Iraq is primed for the onset of major antecedents of development. This is a hunch based on endless readings and sifting through business journals. I happened upon this hunch when I noticed a shift in politics for the southern region, particularly Dhi (Thi) Qar. Capital power (Baghdad) shifted to local provincal authorities. (Sep 2015). This shift gave autonomy to the Governate and no sooner were the engines running. (pun intended). Nasiriya, whom I deemed the seed of resilience, will now have an oil company (Dhi Qar Oil Company (DQOC). These political/industrial shifts antecede development by creating jobs, refurbishing the market, and produce revenue to support more infrastructure rehabilitation.

This is where binary resilience is key. The mentioned shifts will make way for the younger generations to become embedded in the logistics of rehabilitating a nation. Not only will it provide a purpose for generations to come, it offers hope for the IDP generations of now who will be returning home. The college age Iraqi men and woman is where resilience will lie as well. When provincial and urban development begins it will be those generations who will be charged with strategic planning. The more headway made with these small shifts in the right direction will produce higher concentrations of resilient youth but they must be trained and educated.

Ensuing Resilience

The next antecedent is the technological endeavors of establishing communications. Global Access via the internet is by far one of the trademarks of business and development. The Kurdish Region in Iraq now has a .krd domain. (2016) A step in the right direction as well as a potential power struggle via informational propaganda. (We will have to keep our eye on that for the future). A contract was awarded to UltiSat, Inc. for an integrated and managed satellite communication network in Taji, Iraq so long as the electricity can support the project. Reestablishing a nation as a global market is a key endeavor in order to activate and enhance resilience.

Abstract Resilience

3,344,334 peoples have been displaced since January 2014. Of these 3plus million, many are lacking education, and training, which is critical to the already high unemployment rate of 61 percent. With high unemployment and rising prices of food, water, and shelter, the reach of burden expands.

These indicators are often shadowed by international development goals such as Sustainable Development Goals, and Millennial Goals. Said goals are funded by the United Nations, international NGO’s and governments. The problem with said goals is that they are ideologically based and intentions are theory based. In the case of Iraq, there must be a multidimensional paradigm shift; credence.

Credence of Resiliency

Resilience is often associated with words like strength, endurance, overcoming, breakthrough, struggle, and etc. What I have not heard often is acceptance. With the exception of few, people are resilient. Biologically is resides in our nervous system. It is our fight or flight mechanism. In the case of the Iraqi people, as well as any population alike, there is an element of unending violence and fear. I would not go as far to say that the Iraq people have accepted this void of respite, however the consistent conditioning to a volatile environment has left them despair. The real development begins with rehabilitating the person as well as the nation. The silver lining is that the children who have not been conditioned for so long, could potentially be the generation of resilient thinkers and be the hope of Iraq.

Iraq: Ur Drawing Outside of the Lines. A Microscopic View of the Southern Iraqi Blueprint of Reconstruction

There are often finely drawn, and skirted, lines between development and conflict resolution. Too often those lines are inevitably blurred, crossed, and controversially exploited when conflict factors are present. The good thing about lines is that they appear differently depending on the distance at which they are viewed.

In this blog, I hope to offer you a magnified view of the real lines, if not the front lines, of the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The What

In 2003, the world watched as the US and Coalition Forces invade Iraq to remove Dictator Saddam Hussein. The following hours after March 19, 2003, and to the seconds passing as you read this, there has been criticism, speculation, and condemnation from the insurgency to the unofficial end of the Iraq War in 2010. The Gods of Media will propagandize the entire ordeal and forfeit many perceived truths about this particular time in the world. So without ado, please, let us begin with the what. But first, allow me to reboot your thinking palate.

Take a deep breath, and image on a map the Middle East. Now imagine scrolling inwards to the Gulf Sea. A few more clicks in and you can see Iraq. If you’re a history buff you may even remember in grade school the mysterious ancient land of Mesopotamia. That’s right the Fertile Crescent. Biblically, the most fruitful and beautiful place on earth. Hey!!! Wait!!! Don’t google that yet….stay with me. Scroll in a little more to the southern region just southeast of Baghdad.


CNN.com Image (2016)
CNN.com Image (2016)

The little red location icon indicates the capitol of the Dhi Qar province, An-Nasiriyah. There is no accurate population recording but some think that perhaps there are approximately 500,000 Shia residents who are indigenous to this region. One of the cities in An-Nasariyah, the Ancient City of Ur, where the biblical patriarch himself, Abraham, resided. It’s true, I was inside his house…

Which leads me to the next topic in which you will hopefully be engaged in as you read along over the next few weeks. Yes, that’s right I was there. I am one of your sources. But this story isn’t about me. It’s about development and reconstruction. You could say this blog will be a tale of billion dollar efforts to rebuild one of history’s most ancient civilizations. Ahem, yeah…no easy way to get that done. However, the efforts were there.

The Effort

In 2006 the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) project was implemented. This project was unique in the sense that the efforts transitioned from large international firm involvement to start and ended and with local Iraqi firms as ministries. You will recall that a major problematic contributing factor to unsuccessful development, historically, was involvement from actors too distant. So this was the real time implementation of ‘lessons learned’.

I digress…

The IRRF was the parent effort which produced many families of efforts towards reconstruction. The immediate offspring of the IRRF, who I have deemed as sisters, are the 4 major priorities of the fund.

  1. Boosting the capacity of local and national-level governments
  2. Sustainment of infrastructure rebuilt through the IRRF
  3. Completion of mostly smaller essential service projects
  4. Private sector development.

In the next few weeks I will offer some insights to how these priorities played out in real time.

Hand Me The Wrench…Take Cover!

Rebuilding is proven extremely difficult when the adversary keeps hiding your tools. Conflict plays a very important role in development in the form of rebuilding.

No spoilers on this topic now, so you will just have to tune in next week.

The Wrong Approach

Often we have discussed the challenges of humanitarian aid, conflict resolutions, and how they play into development. Many ethical questions are asked. Why are we involved? Should we be involved? Do they want our assistance?

These questions never stopped being asked and the answer change within seconds depending on the ever changing situation in conflict ridden locations. However, the one question that always stuck with me after my deployment was ‘Who?

Most of us barely knew anything about the Iraqi people. Even some of the higher ranking officials didn’t know. So I deduced that the experts knew best. Wrong. Even the SIRGI (Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) himself, questioned the approach because not enough effort was done toward understanding who we were/are helping. Basically, all that work and money was invested in the reconstruction of a nation of people who had no idea how to maintain the after-reconstruction state. I know, harsh, but true.

This is the blog piece when I play Devil’s Advocate. You have been warned. But keep an open mind.


This blog is a first and second person account of how development, in the name of reconstruction, plays out during times of conflict. However, I would behoove you to draw your own conclusion!


This topic is very dear to me. I was a witness to something incredibly significant and wish to share that with you all. There are some elements of humor and sarcasm in this blog for the effect of keeping a heavy topic light even if it should not be. Often, the stories we hear lack couth and respect. So I wish to offer you a story which will open your eyes to another time, place, and culture. Some of the names and placed are fiction for security and identity of key actors.


The Associated Press circa 2013. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/much-of-60b-from-us-to-rebuild-iraq-wasted-special-auditors-final-report-to-congress-shows/.

Reconstruction Security Support Services Iraq (RSSS-I). http://www.aegisworld.com/who-we-are/.

Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Oversight of Aegis’s Performance on Security Services Contracts in Iraq with the Department of Defense. SIGIR-09-010, January 14, 2009.

Rebuilding Iraq: U.S. Achievements Through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. http://2001-2009.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rpt/60857.htm. United States Department Of State Washington, Dc . Released By The Bureau Of Near Eastern Affairs And The Bureau Of Public Affairs, February 2006. Department Of State Publication 11317

Tallil Airbase, Sector Operations Center, Intecept Operations Center. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/tallil.htm.