What Iraq Needs

Partitioning Iraq will never be a solution — as in Bosnia, ethnic and religious groups are still relatively mixed, and partition would involve the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Few would argue that the American-led invasion of Iraq has not had devastating consequences for both countries. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the war may now have cost over 600,000 Iraqis their lives. Nearly 3,000 American troops have died and the United States continues to spend massive sums on the war. The need for new approaches and solutions in that country has become more urgent than ever. Changes are needed within the country itself and abroad, and Iraq needs the help of the international community now more than ever. We three students — one Moroccan, one Egyptian and an American — present to you our "common sense" proposal for the future of Iraq.

The major problems facing Iraq today are as much economic as they are military. The power and sewage systems in Baghdad have been an embarrassment for years — after all, they worked under Saddam, but crumbled in American hands, largely due to a ferocious insurgency the United States was not prepared for. Newsweek's "conservative" estimate of unemployment in Iraq is 30 to 40 percent. In parts of the unstable Sunni triangle, that figure may be as high as 70 percent. What Iraq needs now is a stable economy and thousands upon thousands of new jobs.

Security is a prerequisite for economic growth. American troops can suppress violence in the areas where they are present, but as soon as they move on, violence spikes anew. The country is fiercely divided among ethnic and religious groups, and those who support a continued American presence argue that ethnic cleansing and even greater violence are real risks. We agree that a total withdrawal of American troops is not an option today; the security of Iraq would be compromised and the country's internal strife would devolve into chaos.

Iraq's internal political problems must be solved by Iraqis and by their elected leadership. However, one of the greatest mistakes the United States has made in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime was to shift an excessive amount of responsibility onto the weak Iraqi political structure, and too quickly. The American and British forces are currently the only guarantors of stability in Iraq. American forces, in all truth, will probably need to stay in Iraq for many years to come, as an insurance policy, as they did in Japan, Germany and South Korea. Of course, the responsibility of keeping the streets safe must, at a certain point, shift onto the shoulders of Iraqis, whose security forces must be ramped up.

Partitioning Iraq will never be a solution — as in Bosnia, ethnic and religious groups are still relatively mixed, and partition would involve the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Iraq has a much better chance of surviving as a united country if other nations invest in its success. The United States should go to Iraq's neighbors in the region and secure pledges for military or economic assistance. At the very least, they must promise not to work against the process of rebuilding Iraq into a stable, unified country.

A few years ago, of course, the United States disregarded the United Nations and unilaterally waged war on Saddam, implying that it didn't really need the rest of the world to approve or disapprove of its actions. But in the case of Iraq, it has become increasing clear that an international role is necessary.

President Bush may be able to convince the United Nations to play a much larger role in Iraq. The United Nations' position as a neutral player in conflict zones and history of successful peacekeeping operations could temper the insurgency, and provide an international military presence that would not be seen as an enemy occupier. The United Nations also has great expertise in humanitarian relief and post-conflict reconstruction which would be useful in Iraq.

Also, convincing Arab states to send troops to help maintain security in Iraq, and/or to contribute financial aid to Iraq, may be much easier if troops were sent in under a United Nations umbrella instead of as part of an American coalition. The whole world, after all, should be invested in Iraq's future given its oil reserves and strategic importance in the region. The United Nations might even consider governing the country itself as an informal protectorate, as it has done (more or less) in Kosovo and Bosnia, learning from the varying levels of its success in these countries.
The next step for Iraq would be economic development, and again, the United Nations' experience in these areas is vital. Only after Iraq's economy is well on its way to recovery should the question of Iraq's government be considered, because the government that was rushed into place in Iraq is seriously unstable and is not addressing the concerns of any party in Iraq, particularly its Sunni and Kurd minorities. Reconsidering the constitution and form of government is sorely needed. Stability first, infrastructural development second, and an Iraqi government last. Unless the world gives the Iraqi people something solid to stand upon, their future will be a nightmare. If everyone offers a hand, Iraq could be pulled from the jaws of catastrophe.

Austin Richardson is a student at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University; Youssef Benali is a graduate student in International Studies and Diplomacy at Al Akhawayn University of Ifrane; and Caroline Fawzy is a mass communications student at the American University in Cairo. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Arab-Western intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.