Constructing a New Liberal Iraq

author: Robert E. Looney, Naval Postgraduate School
author: John Tirman, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: March 7, 2013,   recorded: April 2005,   views: 2293

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Iraq’s oil reserves are the second largest in the world, yet according to both colloquium speakers, the country’s economic prospects are quite dim. They also agree that bungled U.S. reforms share some of the blame for Iraq’s bleak outlook. Robert Looney believes that Washington dearly wants to “make Iraq a showcase for other countries in the Middle East, by showing how a successful market economy could improve standards of living,” among other goals. But policy makers have gone at the problem the wrong way, pushing for immediate outside investment in and ownership of Iraqi assets. “If you were a freshman looking at an economics book and had to write a paper overnight, this is pretty much what you’d come up with.” Instead, reforms have “created unemployment and insecurity” and led to a shadow economy riddled with corruption that seems unlikely to budge for years. Among his scenarios: Iraq might go the way of Iran, becoming a “pragmatic theocracy;” “muddle through” to become “a Nigeria of the Middle East;” or get stuck in a vicious circle, and become a “Yugoslavia with oil.” John Tirman says that “economic growth after 15 years of decline is essential to winning over the Iraqi people,” but the U.S. free market schemes are deepening the distrust Iraqis have in economic reforms, as they observe deals primarily transacted with outsiders. Tirman says this rapid privatization leads to more insecurity, and that if you “want to stabilize the economy, give money to people to live on and make them feel they have a future.” He sees a strong likelihood of civil war, if not between Baathists and Shi’as then between Kurds and Shi’as.

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