It's an obfuscatory assertion that insecurity has impeded progress in Iraq since 2003. It is often said that if Iraq were secure, development would ensue. But is this commonly made claim true and would it hold if the next five years brings brighter days? The simple fact is that Iraq's problems are deeper than issues pertaining to insecurity. Ironically, Iraqi's experience of sanctions and war but stable inter-communal relations in times of hardship has been the only lifeline embedded in its social fabric that has held the country together in the past five years.
Most would say that overcoming insecurity is the quickest and surest way to development. But why is this? The truth is that foreign governments, corporations and international non-governmental organisations are largely focusing on how to fulfil their agenda with minimal Iraqi participation. For these organisations, priorities rest with realising their institutional objectives rather than assessing how to facilitate Iraqis to help themselves. When support was most needed in the past five years in the country, it was largely denied to the most progressive, practical and pragmatic of civil society activists, academics and human rights campaigners. The systematic entrenching of dogmatic sectarian politics since its legitimisation in the January 2005 national elections has meant that support to community based organisations promoting an alternative vision for Iraq has been missing.
For those power brokers in the Green Zone, security is also an excuse for their woes and reason for a poor scoreboard of achievements. It is said to be the major hindrance - an obstacle to the movement toward a stable Iraq. But behind this contention, the security excuse has fostered delays, corruption and inaction, and thus contributed to Iraqi's growing apathy of the political system. We should not forget that the great sacrifices Iraqis are willing to take are a far cry to life in the Green Zone. This is specially telling when at great personal cost, locals run to help bomb afflicted victims knowing a secondary explosion is highly likely. Genuine grass-root support to Iraqis is probably the most self-sustainable of efforts that should be promoted.
The security fallacy has also dangerously nurtured the live-for-today mentality that has sucked dry local political vibrancy from the bottom up. By concentrating on nationally driven governance agendas but neglecting to focus on generating jobs, the past five years has sown disincentives at the community level in pursuing sustainable development. Unfortunately, a growing number of Iraqis want out and cant see the light at the end of the tunnel. Iraqi's today are less willing to invest in the long-term development of the country, which is a direct and causal repercussion of the stalled progress at the state and governmental level.
The next five years should see a resurgence of grass-root funding to community based projects and initiatives on locally negotiated agendas to compensate for this gap. But this should not be more of the same. Current funding streams need to be reconsidered. Western assistance has been in the form of contracting-out work to local NGOs, which has fostered patron-client relations and prevented Iraqis from setting their own locally defined development agendas. Not only did the 2005 national elections prove fruitless for most Iraqis, increasingly Iraqis are dissatisfied with those socially and civically disconnected Western funded Iraqi based organisations claiming to represent them. If we are to see more of this dismissive tug-of-war treatment of the Iraqi population, we should not be surprised to see a new phase of locally driven disillusionment as a protest against this dire situation and even a turn to extremism.
Development is necessarily about the construction of a locally defined agenda. It is a genuine participatory process of tying Iraqis together through multi-layered societal processes of communication and dialogue geared toward negotiating a political settlement. The pretence of the security excuse has however meant that this process has remained within the domain of a few political parties based in the Green Zone and those helping facilitate it externally. Iraqi's are left to get on with life, to become mere bystanders or legitimating blocks for the power hungry. When Iraqis are dying from the lack of half dollar sterilisation equipment in hospitals or continue to see their children's school libraries empty, they are the first to witness this veiled insecurity fallacy designed to hide the continuation of a discredited and corrupt political system. Further testimony to this inaction and poor state of affairs has been the continued looting of Iraq's 6,000-year-old world significant archaeological heritage, with hundreds of thousands of artefacts stolen from numerous sites in the country since 2003. Five years on since the tragic looting of the Baghdad museum, no national protection or public education strategy exists.
A new development agenda is urgently needed. Western organisations have to understand that rather than administering development or devising strategies from Jordan, Washington or the Green Zone, support should be given to existing activists within the country so that a credible, legitimate and locally respected counterweight against extremism and poverty is in place. It has to be understood that overcoming insecurity is best dealt with pro-poor policies focusing on education, job creation and health enhancement. In this respect, the issue of security becomes redundant and marginal. Concern should concentrate on genuinely reducing the risk for Iraqis in their pursuit of a cohesive and prosperous Iraq rather than peddling poor security excuses and hiding behind it as the sole harbinger of complete and utter failure.
Mehiyar Kathem has recently completed an MSc in Development Management at the London School of Economics (LSE) and is currently a freelance writer and researcher.