Rethinking Iraq

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Thursday, July 31, 2003 at 2:28PM :

Rethinking Iraq
Report, World Bank

25 July 2003

Academics, technical experts, UN and World Bank officials gathered in Lebanon for a two-day conference earlier this month to discuss the future of Iraq and share some of the latest research findings on the reconstruction work facing the country.

Organized jointly by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA), the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, the "Iraq and the Region After the War: Issues of Economic and Social Reconstruction" conference sought to explore the medium and long-term framework for the nascent reconstruction and development efforts currently taking place.

"What I find refreshing about the agenda of this workshop is that it attempts to step back from the discussions on who does what today on the ground and instead tackles the medium to long-term agenda for the development of Iraq," said Omar Razzaz, the World Bank's Country Manager for Lebanon, in his opening remarks at the conference.

"It raises the right set of questions, and attempts to develop a framework with which to assess the efficacy of what is taking place on the ground."

The agenda covered issues ranging from the political, economic, financial and social impact of the war, to previous experiences with reconstruction both in Iraq and elsewhere - and the major issues lying ahead for the development process. More than a dozen research papers were presented on the topics discussed, several of which had been drafted by Iraqi academics.

"In our view, the important question for this meeting is how to frame the development agenda for Iraq given its history and rich base in oil, water and human capital," said Razzaz.

"In other words, how can Iraq ensure that its medium to long term development contributes to a diversified economy, provides a broad distribution of its benefits, and avoids the typical incentives for a bloated public sector, excessive consumption at the expense of future generations, and a "rentier based" system of governance."

The issues of the future of the oil sector, the state enterprises, and a new social contract between the state and society dominated the discussions.

The transition process for the public enterprises was high on the agenda, with discussions evolving around how to avoid private monopolies replacing public monopolies and preventing a "private Mafia" from capturing assets at a low price. A number of speakers expressed their concerns regarding the oil sector, debating the pros and cons of maintaining the sector in the hands of the state versus privatizing it. The Norwegian and Canadian models of creating oil funds for current and future generations were discussed with great interest.

With regards to the cost of reconstruction, some speakers feared a scenario consisting of inflated prices, with contracts for reconstruction being highly lucrative, due to the possibility of paying them with Iraqi oil. Several people maintained that international institutions should play a role in ensuring that costs are contained.

There was consensus among the speakers that the collapse has not been of the government only, but of the state, and to some extent society. Calls were again made for international institutions to play a role in fostering a civil society, that would go beyond the realm of tribes and religious groups.

Participants of the workshop found the event to be productive. "The conference was extremely interesting," said Razzaz. "We are hoping to follow-up with a series of specialized workshops on some of the topics that came up. The collaboration between well known Iraqi technical experts, the UN and the World Bank can provide a highly valuable and influential contribution to the debate on the development of Iraq."

-- Sadie
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