Where Iraq Itself Finds Hope

By Barham Salih, deputy prime minister of Iraq (THE WASHINGTON POST, 17/09/06):

From my experiences visiting the United States, it is easy for me to understand how disappointed and saddened Americans must be at the scenes of violence from Iraq. For Iraq’s leaders, the carnage is a source of deep frustration. The pace of what we can achieve, relative to what we aspire to, is simply not what the people of Iraq and the generous people of the United States deserve.

We must change the dynamic of violence. The Iraqi government has undertaken a searching analysis and is responding with a strategy on two fronts: national and international.

We have a sense of urgency, but we refuse to give in to panic. While it is important to highlight the progress made, particularly given the extremely pessimistic tone of debate in Washington, we know we must confront many grave challenges. The unrelenting security problem, sectarian polarization, corruption and the inability of the government to deliver services are all threats to the transition. They could prove fatal if not dealt with urgently.

We Iraqis must recognize that it is up to us to resolve our problems. Outsiders cannot deliver for us. The Iraqi leadership must assume responsibility, deal with these challenges and turn the tide. This can be done by Iraqis, but they will undoubtedly need sustained support from the international community and particularly the United States.

The key planks of the national side of our strategy — embodied in a “national compact” — are national reconciliation, democratic federalism, political inclusion and a fair and rational oil policy. To achieve these things, the Iraqi Policy Council on National Security, composed of key elected officials, has adopted an intensive legislative timetable. This agenda is vital: It is the political part of our approach to ending the violence.

We have imposed a tough timetable because we owe it to our own people to press harder and to advance, no matter how intense the assault upon us by the terrorists. For example, this month we should pass our investment law and establish a Parliamentary Commission for the Review of the Constitution. Next month the parliament should vote on legislation to reform the de-Baathification commission. In December it should pass legislation on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.

These laws will move us toward a viable political equilibrium inside Iraq. Because Iraq is an inherently diverse country we need a balance that protects diversity and encourages a voluntary, democratic, federal national unity. This will benefit the entire region.

For most of its existence as a modern state, Iraq was profoundly unbalanced politically. Power was concentrated in the hands of the few, the benefits of the state denied to the many. The liberation of Iraq in 2003 temporarily created a new, if fundamentally democratic, imbalance. Almost overnight, the Kurds and Shiite Arabs were enfranchised, while many — too many — Sunni Arabs did not participate in the new political process.

We must defend diversity. Those responsible for the violence, the Baathist-jihadist terrorist axis, hate and reject diversity and democracy. They seek supremacy and theocracy.

Yet another force that the national compact must address is the disequilibrium that comes from majoritarianism. This is an issue not just for Iraq but for its regions, because those who are a majority in one part of the country are a minority in other areas. To prevent tyranny of the majority, Iraq now has a bill of rights that requires practical political enforcement.

Balance is critical. Without it, there could be disintegration of the country. Within the national reconciliation program outlined by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, we must seek balance on de-Baathification — balance between the need for justice for the victims of the Saddam Hussein regime and the need to politically rehabilitate those whose crimes were not beyond the pale.

Similarly, in our counterterrorism and anti-militia strategy, we must balance political and security measures. There is no pure security solution to the terrorism and militia challenges — just as there is no neat, “politics only” way of settling these issues. We need both approaches. The door to the political process must always remain open; our security forces must be ever vigilant.

The second part of our strategy is international. The Iraqi government understands that it must end terrorist violence not just for Iraq’s sake but also for the region. If Iraq plunges into a full-blown civil war, so will the rest of the Middle East. This is not a theory but a fact that our wiser neighbors comprehend.

Resolved to avoid past mistakes, we announced the plan for an “International Compact With Iraq” in a statement with the United Nations on July 27. At a recent productive meeting in the United Arab Emirates, with the assistance of the United Nations, Iraq sat down with other interested parties to develop this compact.

It involves a road map for economic development. In a nation weaned on war, we need to give the bored young men of Iraq employment and the pride that comes from hard work — instead of the easy swagger of the gunman. We should invest our oil revenue in infrastructure. We must aim to create jobs and distribute the benefits of the current oil boom widely.

We want a partnership, not unconditional aid. We are adopting a structured plan for economic development, not issuing a laundry list of financial demands. In utilities and hydrocarbons there has to be transparency and accountability, a dialogue between the federal government and the federal regions and equitable development.

Moreover, we are promising clear targets for economic restructuring, accompanied by mechanisms for intelligence cooperation and security coordination. Such an approach, with broad international support, is something new and, we hope, a harbinger of a Middle East characterized by cooperation, not conflict.