Economic Desertification of the Disputed Areas

February 14, 2018 at 2:38 am

Kirkuk in July 2017. Photo: Bnar Sardar

From the Sunni Dictatorship and the Shia Chaotic Democracy to a Kurdish Nationalistic Perspective

Sangar R. Mahmood

In the past 50 years, for the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens living in the disputed areas, but the mentality behind the Sunni’s Agal(Arabic turban), Shia’s Ammama (religious turban) and The Kurd’s Jamanawa and Shrwal (traditional Kurdish clothing) are not bringing any clue to find out how to pursue a peaceful coexistence among each other.

After 1968 with the establishment of republic governing and end of Royal Reign in Iraq, Ba’athists who came into rule after several coup d’etats had spent billions of dollars from Iraqi’s wealth wasted on eight-year war with Iran, genocide towards the Kurds in the North of Iraq and repressing the Shia to the south of the country. The Ba’ath’s policy resulted in rising Iraqi’s debts to a record of 125 billion dollars and sacrificing thousands of the innocent young people and people with potential till toppling Saddam regime in 2003.

For these reasons disproving dictatorship is not seen as a threat to the cultural, political and national perspectives, but also this sort of governing ruined the economy and became a bigger threat to the country’s future as well. Though, from the economic vision, the falling of the dictatorship was very necessary and in this regard all Iraqis were keen to see that to happen if they had any sensitivity to other matter before.

The Iraqis have got two unfortunate tales; one is about Saddam’s era and the other is Post-Saddam. From the beginning of the sixties to the end of the eighties of the past century, the Ba’ath brutality was practiced on daily basis on everyone in the country. After the Gulf War, Iraqis faced a number of other difficulties; a very bad and poor economy due to sanctions and this toughly reflected on the civilians’ lifestyle.

The Fall of Saddam, in 2003, made many Iraqis dream of a new flamboyant, democratic and human respected country, but unfortunately the opposite of the dream imposed itself instead. During the first decade of “New” Iraq, the new government only painted its historic records with ugly sectarian conflicts and the highest number of the bombed cars.

Within all of that, the disputed areas in the New Iraqi’s chapter also became a hotspot to interior conflicts and targets to the terror attacks as they were being repressed during the dictatorship dark-days. Having a peaceful life for citizens in the disputed areas’ is also forbidden even in a new democratic one.

During examining the Saddam’s Sunni iron rule and the chaotic-Shia democracy, the Iraqis learned a very dirty lesson; Instead of transmitting energy and labor-power of the center of the country to agriculture, industrial infrastructure and technological developments, the rulers failed to do it. Unfortunately, those energy and power elements of Iraqis in the new era were consumed in revenge and violence. This also triggered more violence to the region and this made terrorist, like ISIS, easily to seize one-third of the whole Iraqi lands within few weeks!

Mosul 11/7/2017: Most markets either partially or completely destroyed as a result of war between Iraqi forces and ISIS. Photo: Fazil Hawrami

Revenge, violence and refuting each other shrank the economy and ISIS attacks were yet another nail on Iraq’s economy coffin. This evidence when during the 40 years of the dictator rule, Iraqi debts reached to 125 billion dollars until 2003, while only 3 years of war on terror costed Iraqi 40 billion dollars, and the destruction of the Nineveh, Anbar, Saladin, Kirkuk provinces and part of Diyala province which was estimated as worth hundred billion dollars. Only Nineveh province destruction estimated by officials as 50 billion dollars! Furthermore, nearly ISIS terrorists took 850 million dollars in cash from different banks through the disputed areas.

To understand the real estimate of the economic damages created by ISIS invasions, if we take Nineveh destruction (which is estimated as 50 billion dollars) as an example; with this 50 billion dollars, Iraqi expenses on both military and civilian sides could be covered for six months, and this amount also is enough to the IMF as an international body to not put Iraq on the red line of the currency savings policy.

Despite enormous economic loses and the collapse of infrastructure through the disputed areas, hundreds of thousand of people were displaced in Iraq which damaged the economy in two levels; reducing local products and destroying many small businesses, is one result. The second is importing more foreign products and increasing the unemployment ratio. Those facts make and push young people in Iraq generally, and the young people from the disputed areas in specific, to take military jobs instead of being productive or improving their civil skills.

The war on ISIS was getting tougher day by day and the Iraqi military was not much powerful to resist it and this situation gave the Peshmarga (Kurdish forces) a golden opportunity to control wide regions of the disputed areas. The coming of the Kurds to the disputed areas was considered as a hope to return peaceful life without experiencing sectarian conflicts and security instability. This hope of expecting a different governance version from the Kurds is more sounding where millions of Christian, Sunni, Shia and Turkmens are living within Kurdistan region after being displaced by terrorists. The new rulers to the disputed areas have started their way of governance by mid 2014 to the end of 2017.

Compared to Sunni dictatorship and Shia chaotic democracy, Kurd governance was giving enough attraction to offer a very different perception. But the Kurds wasted this great opportunity with corruption and lacking the rule of law.

The Kurds were in a hurry to establish their own state, and this independent-policy was a prominent cause to not perform a good governance style throughout the disputed areas. More badly, the Kurdish rulers were misusing oil incomes of that region and they also used the money in a very unfair way. If we take Kirkuk Oil wells, which were controlled by the Kurds back then, as an example of misusing the treasures of the disputed areas, we could easily indicate the big mistakes done by them.

The Kurds precisely know how Kirkuk’s oil in the past was being misused by the Iraqi regimes and the incomes from that oil were vastly spent on illegitimate wars, genocide and for sectarian purposes, and only the polluting smoke from producing oils is given to the people of the disputed areas instead of providing a good infrastructure and health system.

The Kurds ignored those lessons from the past, and they had been falling to the first trap of repeating the same policy by not providing the disputed areas the lion share.

Mistreating the disputed area was so catastrophic to the Kurds, and they lost an opportunity to prove good management of their ruling compared to the central government. During their era of exporting Kirkuk’s oil (from 2014 to 2017), KRG only sent petrol-dollar to the province that was mostly about 10 million dollars per month. Instead, they could have won people’s heart if they were managed it very differently as this: %20 of the income to Kirkuk province, %25 to Nineveh and Anbar provinces, %20 to other disputed areas and only %30 to KRG.

Kirkuk/ September 2017: it shows in a local market the Kurdish, the Iraqi and the Turkmen flags are flying together a month before the Kurdish Referandum. Photo: The Guardian.

The misusing of incomes was not the only sin, by flying the Kurdistan flag above the disputed areas, which is proved that they also neglecting others point, Kurds made the second mistake when they forget that for the past 100 years, the whole Iraqi regimes tried hard to change the identity of those societies but they failed.

The Kurds, instead of repeating the same way of governance by the other Iraqi regimes, should have had different way and different vision to rule the disputed areas. By establishing dozens of companies and new industrial infrastructures and creating more job opportunities, and making other components of the areas to share financial status with the Kurds. This policy not only benefited the people of that region, in the same time serving Kurds’ long dream of returning those areas constitutionally into their own region, especially in any ballot day.

The above facts of governance style of Sunni, Shia and the Kurds signaled that the disputed are before needing any changes in the ruling elites or faces from a different ethnic or religious identity, they prominently need a good governance and government in that is very effective to run the economy and producing more jobs, not more bombs! This is the only strategy to see a united and a peaceful coexistence life throughout Iraq, and this (in condition, leaves those areas as disputed till they are treated legally as stated in article 140 of Iraqi constitution) that would benefit the disputed area very effectively to see more business and prosperity.

Dictatorship, Sectarianism and National policy failed to offer good governance, but economically directed policy would be very successful to fill those gaps that are created by other types of the past governing policies. This can be obviously understood if compared to the Indonesia situation; in 2014, when Jonathan Tepperman (US writer) asked the president of Indonesia back then ”Why is Indonesia thriving when so many other Muslim states are dying? ” “Well, what we realize” he responded, “is that to deal with extremism, we needed to deal with inequality first”.


*Sangar R. Mahmood has an M.A in International political Communication- Sheffield University/UK

Expertise: Diplomatic Relations and Political Economy


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