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Outside View: Challenges Ahead In Iraq

By Anthony H. Cordesman
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Jan 15, 2006
Oil is the practical symbol of wealth and power. Control over oil revenues is control over some 85 percent of state earnings in Iraq, and control over the exploration and development of new and existing oil reserves is already a critical political issue.

The new Iraqi constitution leaves this issue ambiguous; political pressure will almost certainly force the issue over the first six months the new government is in session.

These near-term problems are further complicated by pipeline and export route politics; the integration of important aspects of the oil and gas infrastructure on a national level; the lack of refinery capacity and gross overdependence on product imports; and unsustainable subsidized prices for gasoline, cooking fuel, heating oil, etc.

Money, taxation, and duties will be key issues that extend far beyond the control of oil export revenues, and again help shape the debates over federalism and central versus local authority.

Iraq does not need to truly balance its budget, but it needs much better fiscal management. The new government inherits a fiscal mess disguised as an annual budget and plan. It will need to show it can takeover much of the aid process in terms of management and execution, and find ways to distribute it more equitably.

The new Iraqi government will almost certainly have to appeal to the United States and the world for another major aid effort at a difficult time, and must follow up on the effort to achieve forgiveness of debt and reparations.

Investment Policy

The same issues that can either polarize or unify Iraqi politics are critical to the climate shaping domestic and foreign investment, and suitable laws and regulations still need to be drafted or confirmed.

The constitution leaves many ambiguities, as does actual Iraqi practice to date. The issue is compounded by permeating corruption, inefficiency and delay, and a major debate over the role of religion and Sharia in shaping the rule of law. Striking practical differences in interpretation and enforcement now exist at the local level.

Like the rule of law, the constitution leaves as many open areas as it closes. In any case, it is practice, not the letter of the law that counts. Some issues can be deferred and Iraqi standards are not those of the United States and the European Union.

The basic security of the individual, and human rights as they apply to protection of different ethnic and sectarian groups, are issues that cannot be deferred. Soft ethnic cleansing, enforcement of religious practices, and police and security force abuses are also issues requiring early action.

Once again, the debate over the constitution almost forces the government to find early solutions and compromises. So does the nature of the political campaign, and Shiite and Sunni politics. Inclusive and moderate Islamic solutions will not be a problem. Hard-line efforts, particularly the kind of Shiite-dominated efforts like the "555" political alliance's campaign could be intensely divisive.

Most top Iraqi political figures are aware of how much they need Coalition forces and support. It is clear, however, that this is usually a matter of necessity, not friendship or love. The Iraqi people clearly want the Coalition out; the debate is over. Many new legislators have also campaigned on at least an indirectly anti-Coalition ticket.

The new government will have to come to grips with debates over deadlines for withdrawal, limits on Coalition actions, status of forces agreements, and a host of other issues relating to Coalition forces and influence. It will do so in a largely hostile political environment with new Sunni voices.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair of Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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Outside View: Our Troops' Unmet Needs
Washington (UPI) Jan 09, 2006
Many in Congress and the Pentagon boast American troops have the best equipment in the world. But reports from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan say otherwise. The information about the failures is not new; solutions are long overdue.

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