The economic story is far worse. It can no longer be disputed that there has been a failure to deliver an improvement in the basic standard of life for the Iraqi people. Iraqi gross domestic product (GDP) and the spending power of the average citizen will be lower this year than last. Basic utilities are still unreliable in most of the country, most of the time. Unemployment is at a horrifying rate of 60 per cent.
So it was truly sad that the World Bank, which held its annual meetings with the IMF in Dubai on 23-24 September, was unable to say much to give hope to the people of Iraq that economic conditions will improve. The World Bank has been unable, for good reasons, to invest a meaningful penny so far in reconstruction. Understandably, IMF managing director Horst Koehler and World Bank president James Wolfensohn could not be specific about how much money was needed to restore an acceptable standard of living in the country, or about the amount needed from donors who meet in Madrid next month. They say we shall have to wait to see what the assessment reports completed by the fund and bank say. But surely more at least could have been said, and with greater passion, about the two institutions’ commitment to Iraq?
Now we learn, as reported last week by MEED, that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the principal agency of economic and political reconstruction, has almost run out of money. Unless it gets a heavy injection of cash from congress or donors – or both – more or less immediately, its activities will slow and possibly come to a halt.
The UN has $800 million of Iraq’s money, earned from oil sales before 20 March, locked up in disputed contracts that should have been released months ago. This is ridiculous and brings shame on those managing the oil-for-food programme, to be wound down next month.
The immediate prospects are not good. There are fears that the donors’ conference will fail to deliver the amounts the new Iraqi government is hoping for. Major potential sources of aid are still uncomfortable about the legal status of the government of Iraq and have legitimate worries that the money might not be used effectively with so many uncertainties about the future.
The key to Iraq’s economic future, at least in the short term, is for the five permanent members of the security council to stop squabbling, agree a policy towards Iraq and act to help the people instead of posturing to satisfy the vagaries of public opinion in their own countries. The job of reconstructing Iraq economically must be accelerated. Time is running out. The reputation of the UN, the World Bank and the IMF depends upon it.
The prospect of elections in Saudi Arabia
There has been talk for years about direct elections to Saudi Arabia’s Majlis al-Shoura (consultative council), the 120-person body appointed by the king which is now halfway through its third four-year term. This week, we publish an interview with the effervescent Abdulrahman al-Zamil, a member of the majlis and chairman of the Zamil Group. In it he envisages direct elections for the sixth majlis, which is to assemble in 2010.
This is the first time a person of Al-Zamil’s stature has so clearly called for a date to be set for national elections. He is right to do so.