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Possibilities for lasting peace can be seen in the ashes of the Iraqi war

By James Cumes - posted Wednesday, 23 April 2003

The eagerness with which many countries seek to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq is not surprising. The United States, many are saying, should have no monopoly in this work to restore a decent life to a shattered society.

Those who provided forces actively involved in the campaign of war - Britain and Australia - should now have their share in the campaign of peace; but France, Germany and Russia demand their rights too.

These "rights" may be no more than decently packaged to mean "rights" to extend a generous helping hand to a distressed people. However, the thinly disguised or not-at-all-disguised purpose of the American, British, Australian, French, German, Russian and other governments might well be to get a slice of the alluring "contracts" that the reconstruction of the devastated Iraqi economy will entail.


These contracts can fairly be expected to be valued at some billions of dollars. A wide range of Iraqi social and economic infrastructure will have to be restored. Perhaps even, beyond infrastructure and even beyond the oil industry, the productive economy and the banking and financial institutions of the country will need reconstruction, rejuvenation or even creation from scratch.

The prospects for enterprises around the world - of necessity, more particularly from the more economically developed world - to get a slice of this rich, marbled and thickly iced cake set mouths watering in many well-panelled boardrooms in many countries. This is particularly so at a time when few economies, developed or developing, are doing well; and the world's three largest economies - the United States, Japan and Germany - are all skirting the edge of recession.

We can still not be certain - no one really knows - where the money to fund this comprehensive Iraqi reconstruction will come from. Contrary to some earlier assumptions, it is clear now that Iraq and its oil resources will not be able to bear the burden of its own reconstruction. It is a debt-oppressed economy in critical need of financial aid even to cover its day-to-day consumer needs.

The governments eager to participate in the reconstruction nevertheless expect that they will not have to finance the "contracts" that are allocated to them. They expect that funds will come from somewhere to finance their enterprises of reconstruction and to fund the profits and employment of their own people that will result.

These funds might come from international agencies, perhaps from the United Nations and, more particularly, from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which have already been turning their minds to ways in which they might help.

In the end, those ways will be determined, as the Head of the World Bank has been emphasising, by the member countries, more particularly by the United States who, in the weighted system of voting of both institutions, dominate both the Bank and Fund. Over many years, the IMF, with the close collaboration of the United States Treasury, has been able to conjure tens of billions of dollars, seemingly out of the air, to enable a wide range of countries, especially in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, to "protect" the assets of foreign investors.


If the United States Treasury is so disposed, billions of dollars might now be conjured up to finance the reconstruction of Iraq. This will almost certainly mean that the funds will be applied to benefit United States enterprises, but some diplomatic horse-trading within the Bank and Fund boards will almost certainly ensure some substantial "trickle-down" to other countries, perhaps even Britain and Australia - or France, Germany and Russia.

Whichever way it goes, there is likely to be a good deal of enthusiastic, self-interested pressure for the reconstruction of Iraq, perhaps the thoroughgoing, comprehensive reconstruction on a well-planned, cooperative international basis that is desirable.

Such a program would help a poor, devastated, deeply distressed country at the same time as it would help growth and recovery in the mostly rich, supplying countries. Some of the jobless would be employed. More resources would be available to care for those still without jobs. Gradually all of the jobless would be brought back into the workforce and those living in poverty would enjoy more comfortable levels of living.

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About the Author

James Cumes is a former Australian ambassador and author of America's Suicidal Statecraft: The Self-Destruction of a Superpower (2006).

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