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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

08 November 2002

Straight Talk About "The Day After" Saddam

(Iraqi Experts Discuss Short-Term Economic Needs of a Free Iraq) (790)
By Vicki Silverman
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- In late October a diverse group of Iraqi businessmen,
economists and development professionals met at the Department of
State to discuss ways to restore Iraq's short-term economic stability
following a regime change in Baghdad.
Nasreen Sideek, Minister of Reconstruction and Development from the
city of Erbil, which lies in the part of northern Iraq not under
Saddam Hussein's direct control, was among the participants. Based her
remarks on nearly a decade of first-hand experience rebuilding
northern Iraq, she urged the group to consider maintaining a modified
version of the United Nations Oil-for-Food program to ensure that the
most basic needs reach all Iraqi citizens. Sideek shared her
perspective with the Washington File on November 3.
"It is important to understand that Iraqi Kurdistan has been living
'the day after [Saddam]' for the past eleven years. When we came down
from the mountains in 1991, we found our cities destroyed. There was
no water, no infrastructure -- just an administrative vacuum -- and we
just took over from there and built," she explained.
"We rely today, in Iraqi Kurdistan, on revenue generated from the
Oil-for-Food program. . In the past six years alone we built over
25,000 housing units for displaced families, we established more than
1500 water systems to provide drinking water for whole communities, we
built more than 900 schools, more than 250 health centers and we laid
thousands of kilometers of road in conjunction with the program."
More importantly, she said, the Oil-for-Food program has evolved into
an efficient, trusted mechanism to ensure that resources reach people.
"To cut the program overnight would create a disaster," she believes.
"In an area like Iraqi Kurdistan, there is no food backup, no fuel
backup."
Sideek said that some members of the working group initially
questioned the need to continue a program that is tied to
international sanctions, believing greater trust should be given to a
new Iraqi government. "However, after some discussion, and after
considering the reality on the ground, with many credible studies
showing 60 per cent of Iraqis living in poverty, dependent on the food
basket this program represents, I felt there was more support among my
colleagues for maintaining this program for a transitional period,"
she said.
She and others have volunteered to draft recommendations on how to
modify the program to encompass not only food and material purchases,
but also support Iraq's "backbone" infrastructure and service
personnel, possibly using revenue to pay salaries. This is not
possible under the current U.N. resolution.
In addition to food security, Sideek and over a dozen other Iraqi
participants in the Future of Iraq Project's "Economy and
Infrastructure Working Group" discussed other priority needs of the
Iraqi people. These included the provision of electricity,
communications and medical care, schooling, municipal services,
expanding income-generating opportunities and economic privatization
post-Saddam.
Establishing a good communications network is critical, Sideek told
the Washington File. "We will need to reach out to all people and calm
them down, mobilize and inform them. Information will be very
important. We will really have to keep the people of Iraq informed, to
give them a sense of confidence that they won't be hurt, that they
will be secure."
As a result of their October meeting, the Iraqi experts agreed to
continue their discussions within the framework of focused
"sub-working groups." Their mission, according to one of the Iraqi
experts, is to draw up more detailed proposals for critical
initiatives related to the power and water systems, job creation and
training, and food security.
"Although we may have been using terms often ascribed to disaster
recovery, none of us feels that way," he explained. "'The day after'
will be the first day Iraqis will be able breath freely. Our goal is
to help get things started and to hand it over to a more responsible
government."
"I am really very excited contemplating the future of Iraq," Nasreen
Sideek said. "Speaking from a Kurdish perspective, we are ready to
rejoin the Iraqi government and the rest of the country. We have
always been running under Iraqi laws, as Iraqis. There is no big gap,
except we are freer and more democratic. We are looking forward to
rejoining and sharing our experiences in rebuilding and sustaining
Iraq."
The Future of Iraq Project, launched in July 2002, offers Iraqi
Americans, Iraqi Europeans and Iraqis from the region to meet together
to determine useful projects that can be done between now and a change
of government in Baghdad, as well as in the immediate aftermath of a
transition. The Department of State serves as a facilitator. Once the
free Iraqis determine their priorities, the U.S. government, and
possibly other governments and institutions, decide what programs to
fund and support.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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