Iraq after the liberation of Mosul

As Iraqi forces hammer away at the gates of Mosul and the fall of this “capital” of ISIS in Iraq becomes imminent, a number of political and economic uncertainties will suffuse the Iraqi state and challenge the capacities of its leaders.

Iraq has been in the throes of violence for over 35 years in which its physical infrastructure and state institutions have been destroyed by foreign invasion and war, its population has been reduced to penury, and the integrity of the state has been experiencing repeated blows from forces of sectarianism, separatism and militancy. Old fault-lines have been re-opened and made to bleed afresh. Its tribulations have also encouraged its neighbors to interfere in its domestic affairs by backing one side or the other in the country’s internecine conflicts.

All these divisions are apparent in the ongoing battle to liberate Mosul. The Iraqi national forces trained in counter-terrorism are backed by motley groups representing Shiite militia, Sunni tribal elements, some Sunni militia from the Ninewah province, and Kurdish peshmerga. These are being supported by advisers from Iran and US and NATO special forces and air power. At the same time, Turkey has about 2,000 troops massed at Mosul’s northwest border, ostensibly to train the Sunni militia and the Kurds of the Barzani faction.

However, the remarks of President Erdogan and his senior ministers suggest that Turkey may have the larger agenda of safeguarding the interests of its Turkoman allies in Mosul and generally protecting the Sunnis from harm, even as the president has recalled that Mosul and Kirkuk, indeed the whole Ninewah province, were “part of our [Turkey’s] soul”, raising concerns in Baghdad that Turkey might seek to recapture its territory lost to the British after the World War I.

The immediate aftermath of Mosul’s liberation will determine whether Iraq affirms its ruinous sectarian divide or emerges as a pluralistic state that accommodates its Sunni population and gives it a place of dignity in the political and economic order

Talmiz Ahmad

The immediate aftermath

The immediate aftermath of Mosul’s liberation will determine whether Iraq affirms its ruinous sectarian divide or emerges as a pluralistic state that accommodates its Sunni population and gives it a place of dignity in the political and economic order. This will largely depend on the government’s ability to control the Shiite militia, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which has acquired a reputation for blood-thirsty vengeance on Sunni populations in “liberated” towns for the earlier barbaric violence of ISIS on the Shiite.

It will also reveal whether the Kurds will be happy to be part of this eclectic system or will assert their demand for independence. This could plunge the region into conflict for several years to come, possibly bringing in Turkey and Iran as players in crushing these aspirations with military force.

A united and pluralistic Iraq at peace with itself will provide its prime minister Haidar al-Abadi the opportunity to undertake initiatives for the revival of his country’s economy and improve the wretched lives of its citizens.

The challenges are daunting. Besides the severely damaged infrastructure and an economic order near collapse, the country that depends on oil for 90 percent of its revenues has been most adversely affected by the precipitate fall in oil prices, the capture of some of its northern oil fields by ISIS and recent damage to them by retreating ISIS forces, and disputes with the Kurdish Regional Government [KRG] on the sharing of revenues from the Kirkuk fields that are operated by the central government but exported through the Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.

The oil factor

But, some positive signs are apparent. Oil prices seem to have bottomed out and are expected to range around $ 50/ barrel in this this year and the next. Again, Iraq’s production has reached the record level of 4.7 million barrels per day. Finally, in September this year, the Iraqi government and the KRG have concluded a revenue-sharing agreement on the Kirkuk fields which will boost production and exports.

With assured oil revenues, Prime Minister Abadi’s economic reform agenda will need to be comprehensive and ambitious. Given that the government employs 20 percent of the national labor force that accounts for 70 percent of the national budget, he will need to begin by trimming the bureaucracy, stamping out its corruption and making it more productive. Here, he enjoys the full support of influential religious leaders such as Ayatollah Sistani and Muqtada Sadr.

The rest of the effort will have to be in areas, such as: developing the country’s physical infrastructure, focusing on education and training, repairing and upgrading state-owned corporate institutions, reviving the banking and insurance systems, and promoting the entrepreneurial spirit by encouraging small and medium enterprises.

The liberation of Mosul will provide the Iraqi people with an historic opportunity to repair the extensive harm done to them and their country and re-emerge as a successful and self-confident nation. We will know very soon how effectively they rise to this challenge.

Talmiz Ahmad is the former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50
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