19 October 2017
English Arabic

Iraq: Can the Cradle of Civilisation be Nurtured back to Health?

Thursday, 27 July 2017 18:58

Background

Parts of Iraq, which is historically one of the most productive agricultural regions of the Middle East, lie fallow. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, about eight million hectares of Iraqi land is cultivable, however, in recent years less than half of this land has been utilised. Due to conflict, displacement and lower access to food at least 3.2 million Iraqis are food insecure. A focus on rebuilding the agricultural industry will help to reduce food insecurity, create employment and take some of the pressure off urban areas where many rural citizens have migrated.

Comment

With the capture of Mosul, the Islamic State (IS) has ceased to exist as a territorial entity in Iraq and attention will once again shift from active combat to post-conflict reconstruction. As agriculture was a significant component of the Iraqi economy, accounting for 20-30 per cent of employment, it will play an important role in reconstruction efforts.

Mosul is located in Nineveh province, which was once considered the country’s breadbasket. Prior to IS capturing the region, it produced 21 per cent of the country’s wheat and 32 per cent of its barley. Unexploded ordinance, limited access to seeds, fertilisers, fuel, electricity and machinery pose immense challenges to Iraqi agriculture. As the agricultural sector depends on irrigation canals, many of which were destroyed, the focus is currently on rehabilitating these waterways.

Iraqi society remains fractured, however, and presents a potential challenge to reconstruction efforts. If reconstruction efforts are conducted in an inclusive manner, they could help to overcome the forces that continue to pull the country apart. The Iraqi Government hopes that a successful reconstruction programme will restore the public’s confidence in its ability to govern. Post-conflict reconstruction, if undertaken in a timely and effective manner, will assist the government in this regard. Rebuilding agricultural infrastructure will be part of this process, particularly as restoring the agricultural industry is likely to be a goal that most members of society agree with.

Sectarianism is the main cause of division in Iraqi society and contributed to the rise of IS. The government led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki heightened sectarian divisions, which helped to foster the conditions that allowed the militant group to thrive in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq. Reducing the sectarian divide will be vital to reconstruction efforts.

Iranian influence, which Arab Sunnis resent, is demonstrative of the lingering sectarianism that could undermine post-conflict reconstruction. Iranian influence is present at every level of Iraqi society, from the goods available at markets to television programming to determining which members of parliament are granted cabinet positions. Its influence further increases the Sunni’s marginalisation and disenfranchisement. As elements of the Shia community are reportedly increasingly opposed to Iranian influence, however, Tehran could find itself with diminishing influence.

Iraqis believe that corruption, sectarian tensions and the treatment of Sunnis, in that order, were the main factors that contributed to the rise of IS. Sectarianism is weakening in Iraq and corruption and the perception of rising inequality are becoming greater causes of concern for the average citizen. These issues cut across sectarian divides, and if they remain common concerns, could encourage a greater degree of national unity, which would ultimately help reconstruction.

While sectarian tensions appear to have been abated there is scope for them to quickly re-emerge. If they do, and the security situation weakens, the reconstruction programme will come under increased pressure. The upcoming provincial and national parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 2017 and April 2018, respectively, could give an indication as to whether the current sectarian peace will hold. If it does, a potential hurdle to reconstruction will be avoided and agricultural renewal can continue apace.

Source: FutureDirections.org

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