Baghdad must maintain focus over infrastructure

18 September 2009

Ministries are now advocating directly contradictory port projects. Electioneering will not assuage the concerns of potential investors

It has taken a long time for some of the ministries within Nouri al-Maliki’s government to learn to work together. Tribal divisions, a lack of experience and endemic corruption within the Iraqi political system meant that for much of 2006 and 2007, ministers ran their departments as personal fiefdoms.

Projects and funding were used as tools of political patronage with little co-ordination between ministries to give coherence to Iraq’s reconstruction.

In the past two years, however, there have been signs of change. Ministers have come to realise that improving transport and other links to their own projects would boost the revenues of their ministries. Despite a lack of funding and years of under-investment, transport has become a key priority for the government.

But the impending national elections, scheduled for December, appear to have reversed that welcome development. Iraqi politicians are hardly alone in making promises on the campaign trail that they cannot keep, but given the country’s financial hardships, the number of multi-billion-dollar initiatives being announced by individual ministries is stretching their credibility to breaking point.

The transport and oil ministries are now advocating port projects for the Gulf coast that are directly contradictory. The process looks amateurish and underhand.

Foreign companies understand that the election is uppermost in Iraqi politicians’ minds, and none expects tangible progress on any major projects until a new government is in place next year.

However, to see ministries announcing conflicting schemes and acting willfully independently of each other only emphasises how far Iraq still has to go.

Iraq’s most urgent requirements, if it is to rebuild itself, are foreign money and expertise. This tawdry electioneering will not assuage the concerns of potential overseas investors that the Iraqi market is still simply not worth the risk.

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