Iraq: January 26, 2005

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Its the economy, stupid. Iraqis are less concerned about democracy, than in making a living. You can blame this one on Saddam. Iraq prospered in the 1970s, as oil prices soared and Iraq was one of the leading suppliers. Saddams invasion of Iran in 1980 kept things going, as he borrowed additional billions to buy weapons and supplies to fight off the furious Iranian counterattack. When peace was finally achieved in 1987, Iraqis thought they were safe. But many of Iraqs lenders wanted repayment, and Saddam sought to solve that problem in 1990 by invading Kuwait (which had lots of oil, and was demanding repayment of the billions it had loaned Iraq.) Iraq was not only defeated in 1991, but forbidden to export oil until Saddam disarmed. Saddam refused to let the UN arms inspectors do their job, and while he was doing this, the economy collapsed. In effect, most of the nation went on a meager welfare program to prevent mass starvation. Saddam now controlled what was left of the economy, as he had never done before. Saddam used this new power to punish areas where there was active resistance to his rule. Cutting off food supplies proved very effective in keeping rebels quiet.

When Saddam was thrown out of power in 2003, the economy began to revive. That process had begun in northern Iraq in 1993, as American and British airpower drove out Iraqi police and troops. This was mainly to prevent Saddam from continuing his persecution of the Kurds. Saddam put up with that situation, because the Kurdish region he had lost had no oil. But even without oil, the Kurds got their economy going. In a few years, it was obvious to anyone who visited Saddams Iraq, and the Kurdish controlled north, that the Kurds were much better off. 

But with Saddam gone, so were the people he had running his powerful welfare state. Part of that operation was the army, a sort of armed public works project. With jobs so scarce, a spot in the army was a prize awarded only to those who were loyal to Saddam. Knowing this, right after Baghdad fell, the army (which was only military effective against unarmed civilians) was disbanded, as was the bureaucracy that controlled food distribution. These two institutions were much hated by the majority of the population. However, most of the people who lost their jobs were Sunni Arabs, who lived in central Iraq, and especially Baghdad. When Western reporters went looking for Iraqi interview subjects, a disproportionate amount of the time, they found an articulate, English speaking Sunni Arab who used to work for Saddams government (and sometimes admitted it to the reporter.) Thus began a long line of man-on-the-street interviews featuring an Iraqi put out of work by the American invasion. Most of the people put out of work by the invasion were those who administered Saddams police state. The army was controlled by Sunni Arabs, whose first loyalty was to keeping Sunni Arabs in control of the country. 

Saddam left the economy in shambles, literally and figuratively. Saddam began to cut capital spending (on roads, schools, power plants, Etc.) when he invaded Iran in 1980. This persisted until 2003, meaning that the coalition took control of a country that had been decaying for 23 years. Except for the many new presidential compounds (palaces), and repairing some of the bridges and government buildings damaged during the 1991 war, not much was done. Saddam did spend a lot of money draining huge areas of marshes in southern Iraq, but that was mainly to deprive rebellious Shia Marsh Arabs of a place to hide from his soldiers. For over two decades, the main purpose of the Iraqi economy was keeping Saddam in power. 

The coalition authority immediately eliminated all of Saddams economic restrictions and made it easy to invest in Iraq. This worked in the Shia Arab areas, and was already working in the Kurdish north. But in the center, many Sunni Arabs, especially those who had recently lost their government jobs, were angry at having lost control of the economy, and the country. The Baath Party, and Islamic radical groups (like al Qaeda) proposed a solution; armed resistance and demands that Sunni Arabs be restored to their former glory. Thus began the Sunni Arab fight to get their power, both political and economic, back. Sadly, this made things worse for most Sunni Arabs. While reconstruction and economic growth went on in the rest of the country, the terrorists did most of their dirty work in Sunni Arab areas. 

After a year, it was obvious that the Shia Arabs and Kurds, because of reconstruction, and the absence of Saddams thugs and bureaucrats, were prospering, and the Sunni Arabs were not. But to speak out against the Baath Party and al Qaeda terrorists could be fatal. Sunni Arabs who went to work for the government or coalition were threatened, and sometimes killed. Sunni Arabs kept joining and working. The Iraqi economy was booming, but you needed a job to take advantage of it. 

The government has told the Sunni Arabs that they have to step up and help put down the terror campaign being waged by their fellow Sunnis. This is a lot to ask, especially when the terrorists are quick to kill disloyal Sunni Arabs. While the Sunni Arabs who quit under these circumstances get a lot of publicity, less coverage is given to the lines of applicants waiting to take their place. Its all about jobs, and who, in the long run, can provide the most jobs.


 

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