Iraq: July 1, 2004

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While the Baath party gunmen and al Qaeda terrorists get most of the attention in the media, both coalition and Iraqi officials realize that the biggest danger to the country's future is the culture of corruption and how the billions of dollars available for reconstruction will be spent, or stolen. Iraqis are concerned with security in the short term, but jobs and economic security are the long term obsession. The continued growth of Iraqi security forces, and disgust with al Qaeda for their wanton murder of innocent Iraqis, will eventually crush Baath and the terrorists. But the corruption has always been there, crippling economic growth and political justice for centuries. The coalition authority went after the corruption problem from the beginning. Hordes of accountants and auditors swarm around the contracts being issued for rebuilding. Many Iraqis, realizing the destructive effect of corruption throughout their history, have joined in to fight the thievery. But the result has been a form of gridlock. Although $58 billion has been mustered for Iraqi reconstruction ($24 billion from the United States, $21 billion from Iraqi oil sales and other assets and $14 billion from other foreign donors), only $12 billion has actually been spent so far. And about two thirds of that has been Iraqi money, most of it from oil sales or huge cash stashes belonging to Saddam and his henchmen. A growing number of Iraqis are expecting the public money, especially the oil revenue, to be spent for the public good, and not stolen. For older Iraqis, this attitude comes from memories of the 1970s, when billions of dollars in oil money was spent on public works and infrastructure. This was considered a golden time, when there were plenty of jobs and life was getting better daily. But in 1979, Saddam decided to go to war with Iran, and the happy times ended, never to return. Now Saddam is out, and good times could return, if only the gunmen can be put down and the politicians prevented from stealing all the oil and reconstruction money. Iraqis know what they have to do, and that it is up to them to do it if they are to prosper. Can Iraqis do what has to be done? The answer to that will be played out in the next year.

 

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