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Iraq Social Fund for Development: Optimism and the rebuilding of trust between citizens and the state

Ghassan Alkhoja's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français
Baghdad, Iraq - FlickR | Chatham House
Baghdad, Iraq - FlickR | Chatham House
Iraq is a country of riches… it is one of the few countries in the Middle East that has an abundance of mineral resources, in the form of oil and gas, as well as an abundance of water, with the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers streaming through the cradle of civilization. Along with this comes the sheer scale of human capital that was built over the centuries since the founding of Baghdad. It was said that “Cairo writes, Beirut prints, and Baghdad reads”.
 
Yet, recent history has not been kind to Iraq. It is now saddled with a legacy borne of decades of mismanagement, conflict, and violence. Iraq has descended into a country that is fractured along political, ethnic, and confessional lines. Its riches are being squandered, and its unity in jeopardy.
 
As I visit Baghdad, Erbil, and other Iraqi cities, however, I cannot but feel highly optimistic about Iraq despite its current challenges. I see very hard working people wherever I go… people who see Iraq as a Nation, not as a collection of houses. But for Iraq to emerge stronger, and to again take its place as a strategic player in regional and global politics, Iraqis need to come together in a comprehensive reconciliation and peace building process that would be underpinned by a new social contract that would allow for building the trust of the citizens in their State,
 
The World Bank has been an active and trusted partner in Iraq. The Bank has provided financing and technical assistance across each and every sector in Iraq, while also supporting efforts at the sub-national level in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and supporting governance and decentralization reforms. We are now developing our strategy for how best to support Iraq over the next five years, and one important focus is support for the move towards more local and decentralized development. This is where the proposed Iraq Social Fund for Development comes in, to support recovery efforts, and to provide the impetus for reestablishing trust between citizen and State.
 
Why a social fund now?
 
Equal opportunities to access quality basic services and jobs is the foundation for sustainable, inclusive growth, and peace and stability in Iraq. However, today many parts of Iraq are affected by poor basic social and economic infrastructure and lack of job opportunities, particularly in conflict and newly liberated areas. Government action to address these challenges is constrained by both the limited  presence of, and lack of trust in, the State. If this situation is left unattended, it could become the source of  more conflict and instability.
 
International experience shows that a social fund-type of program could help address these immediate challenges by delivery of assistance to disadvantaged and conflict-affected communities to help rebuild basic social and economic infrastructure and to create temporary jobs. And by positioning communities at the center of the planning and delivery processes, this type of program would also encourage  collective action and citizen engagement, leading to greater trust in the State. It would deliver support to disadvantaged communities, address poverty, build social capital, and help build an effective decentralized service delivery system.
 
Iraq is now entering another pivotal moment in its history. The liberation of Mosul from ISIS is imminent… and Iraq, now firmly on the way towards winning the war, also needs to be firmly  on the way to winning the peace. Winning the peace is possible, but will require a collective effort supported by measures like the social fund that would bring the face of the State much closer to the citizen, to demonstrate that the State is present and capable of  to addressing the socio-economic needs of all Iraqis, and to do it in a consultative manner based on principles of social accountability and inclusion.
 
I am optimistic that Iraq can do this… and Iraq is counting on the World Bank to support it in this pivotal moment in its history.