Mohammed Allawi’s G.A.F.T.A press conference

Mohammed Allawi’s G.A.F.T.A press conference

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Today’s Iraq faces many challenges, with some of them having global consequences. The long-suffering people of Iraq deserve to live in safety and prosperity and a stable Iraq is in everybody’s interest. If we are to stand any chance of realising this dream we must first understand the underlying issues at the heart of the problem, then we must proceed to develop specific strategies that can guide us to a brighter future. To that end, my speech today will focus on four key issues. I will examine the rise of Alqaeda and ISIS in Iraq, how their ideology can be defeated, Iraq’s economy and its relationship with international financial organisations and I will discuss Iraq’s current security arrangements

Let us begin with the aftermath of the fall of Saddam. Many thought that Iraq was on its way to becoming a more peaceful and stable country. Instead we have seen a deepening of sectarian tensions as well as the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq. I’m often asked to explain why this has happened

More than thirteen years have passed since the end of Saddam’s regime, but very little has been achieved in this period. To be more accurate and precise, Iraq, in spite of some limited progress with increasing freedoms and openness, has deteriorated in all other aspects, with an unprecedented rise in corruption, sectarianism and extremist ideologies

The Iraqi people have a rich history, with high levels of education, an advanced civil society, and with no history of radical Islamic ideologies, especially when compared with other countries in the region, where extremist ideologies have historically been more prevalent. Why, then, do we see the rise of extremism amongst normal Iraqis? Why is it that even those who in the past were strong believers in the secular ideologies, including the Socialist Ba’athism, have now become supporters of religious Salafi ideology, which is in complete contradiction to their previous beliefs? What has happened since 2003 to propagate these ideologies?

There are several factors, but, in my opinion, the most important causes can be found in the short-sighted or destructive policies that were implemented in Iraq by certain individuals who governed the country post-2003 who were clearly unqualified for the job. When their hopes of re-election were threatened due to their poor policy decisions and their lack of ability to provide people with security, essential public services, a functioning economy and a corruption-free government, they found that the only way for them to stay in power was by inciting sectarianism. Whether this policy was carried out by Shia or Sunni politicians, they would demonize and marginalise the other side and put on a front of “saving” their own people from what they would portray as “the enemy”. During the peaceful demonstrations in Hawija, for example, more than seventy unarmed people were killed and more than three hundred were injured by the Iraqi Army and highly trained Iraqi special forces. Ayatu Allah Sayed Sistani sent a message to the government, advising them not to confront these demonstrations with The Army or Federal Police, but instead, to let the local police, to safeguard the demonstrators. Unfortunately, this advice was refused because it contradicted with their goals to stay in power. It would not have been successful in creating the illusion that they are saving the Shia, in this case, from what they class as “the enemy”

This rise in sectarianism laid the groundwork for extremism. Let us now look specifically at the rise of ISIS and AL-Qaeda

The Salafi beliefs of these two organisations appeared around 250 years ago, at that time all Muslims (Sunnis and Shias) considered them as the “Khawarij” (deviated from Islam) and the Ottoman Empire and the Egyptian army fought against them for this reason. Nowadays, they falsely claim that they are Sunnis; some Sunnis believe in this propaganda and so do most of the Shias. Such a fabrication has convinced many of the Sunnis, who were getting tired of the many atrocities that the Shia who governed the country committed, to look to such extreme ideologies and therefore begin to cooperate with ISIS (Daesh). It was only once they began to let ISIS (Daesh) into their cities and towns, that they discovered the reality of ISIS (Daesh), who slaughtered thousands of the Sunnis themselves who were considered by ISIS (Daesh) to be non-Muslims. The Shias, only really being exposed to the deaths of their fellow Shias and not necessarily focusing on any deaths of the Sunnis, began to assume that all of ISIS (Daesh), the atrocities that they committed and the ideology that they followed were a branch of Sunni’sm, and both Sunni and Shia citizens have been influenced greatly by such propaganda. Due to this propaganda, from both the government and the extremist organisations, it is the ordinary citizen that has lost out the most, and the only winners have been ISIS (Daesh) and the sectarian politicians who have remained in power

I should also point out the rise of extremist groups among Iraqi Shia, which although are few in comparison to ISIS (Daesh), have added fuel to the fire. ISIS (Daesh) capitalises on their crimes to scare Sunnis into joining them, and the Iraqi government has found it difficult to put such groups down as they claim they are fighting ISIS (Daesh) and do enjoy some level of popular support

With this brief summary of how ISIS (Daesh) was able to rise in Iraq, let us turn to how ISIS (Daesh) can be defeated both militarily and ideologically

As we have mentioned earlier, the deepening sectarianism was the most effective tool for both Shia and Sunni politicians to stay in power. Regretfully, these politicians who have implemented such destructive, sectarian policies, have been governing the country for more than a decade. However a high number of the Iraqi population, especially those who are well educated and aware of the situation, have discovered this propaganda as false and misleading. The demonstrations which have taken place in the last two years, has united the Shias and Sunnis against corruption and a shared desire for Shia and Sunni brotherhood against the corrupt politicians. Also, Prime Minister Hayder Al Abadi can be considered to be much better than his predecessor Al Maliki on the issue of deepening sectarianism in the country. The false propaganda of ISIS Daesh that they are Sunnis has also been realised. The number of Sunni Victims who have suffered at the hand of the Salafis (Al Qaeda ISIS (Daesh) and similar groups) in the Arab world is in fact more than Shia Victims. For example we can look at Algeria in the early nineties, Somalia, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia, some of those mentioned countries have no or very few Shia, and yet have been victim to extremist Salafi ideology

The international community, including the USA, Europe, Russia and other countries, have used one tool to fight those who adopt extremist violent Salafi ideology: the military. However the use of force would probably be at most 50% effective defeat ISIS (Daesh). When these beliefs were first created and gained a following more than 250 years ago, the Ottoman Empire used two methods in order to defeat these groups. Military power, and ideological warfare based on more accurate and authentic Islamic beliefs. I have a list of hundreds of books which were published at that time by Muslim intellectuals in different areas in the Islamic world such as Constantinople (Istanbul), Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and other countries. In comparison, in the last thirty or fourty years, not more than thirty books against extremist Salafi ideology have been published globally. In fact, the opposite has happened: hundreds of books promoting this ideology can be found everywhere!

The West are cooperating with Saudi Arabia, using the state version of moderate Salafism or Wahabism to defeat the violent extremist version of such beliefs, which is impossible. For a very simple reason, Al Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) are the real Wahhabis and not the Government of Saudi Arabia which follows a moderate version of that ideologyFurthermore, Wahhabism is the only ideology taught in Saudi Arabia from primary school till University. In Iraq the situation is completely different, and these beliefs have no roots and have come from outside the country. The Iraqi society refuses such beliefs. The Iraqi people in the areas that were or are occupied by Daesh are forced to embrace such ideologies, otherwise, according to the Salafi ideology, they do not have the right to live

Therefore, once we get rid of ISIS (Daesh) I believe that Sunnis in Al Anbar, Mosul, Salah Al Deen and other areas in Iraq are already immune against these false beliefs. However, to ensure that the same does not happen again, we need politicians who do not incite a sectarian hatred, whether they are Shia or Sunni governing the Country, otherwise extremists, whether in the form of Daesh or another terrorist group, will again have the ability to return back as before

Let’s now turn towards the economy, which we identified as one of the failed policies of the Iraqi government, and was a contributing factor in the rise of sectarianism and extremism. With Oil prices going down, International Organisations are helping Iraq with soft loans and grants. However, will the high levels of corruption in the Iraqi government prevent these funds from being used effectively, and so result in continuing economic failure? If so, what advice should be given to these international organisations when they come to lending money to Iraq?

The consequences of corruption in Iraq are no less devastating than the consequences of the rise of ISIS (Daesh). Iraq earned more than $700 billion dollars in oil revenues since 2003. This amount of money would have been sufficient in helping Iraq become a stable and prosperous country. Sadly, 80% of these revenues have been wasted due to the mismanagement of unqualified ministers and embezzled by politicians who were elected to serve and instead prioritised their own personal gain

Part of the problem is that Iraq’s economy is overly dependent on oil revenues. This was not always the case; the industrial and agricultural sectors were very advanced during the previous regime. Now both Industrial and agricultural sectors have significantly deteriorated due to corruption and mismanagement

The consequences of corruption are even more heart breaking when you consider that 30% of Iraq’s population are now living below the poverty line. The oil revenues over the past decade or so mean that the suffering of the Iraqi people was entirely preventable. Now that oil prices have gone down the suffering of Iraqis has only intensified

To help ease this suffering, Iraq is seeking loans from institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Islamic Development Organisation and other International Financing Organisations.  These institutions are providing Iraq with several billions of dollars to support the budget. Some of this funding is required in Iraq’s fight against ISIS (Daesh). The funding for the war effort should continue as normal however, new policies must be put in place to help ensure the funding for other projects does not get lost to corruption

Up until now, the amount of money lost in Iraq far exceeds the funds provided to the Iraqi government in budget support. Furthermore, many of these loans will need to be paid back so these loans will increase the burden on future budgets, and mean that future generations will pay for the faults and corruption of the current politicians

That is why it is crucial that the Iraqi government must present clear plans to the international financial institutions and the council of representatives on how they will manage and spend these funds. This will help to ensure the funds loaned to Iraq are used legally and for the betterment of Iraq

I recommend that the financial institutions set these three benchmarks

1st. The Iraqi government should collaborate with the World Bank , IMF and others to create a comprehensive plan designed to develop Iraq’s economy. This plan should confront Iraq’s current economic reality of low oil prices and not be based on naïve expectations of future oil price increases. There is no guarantee the oil price will increase and so we must assume that Iraq has a low budget economy

Part of the economic strategy must include reform of Iraq’s current foreign exchange policy. As it stands, Iraq is one of the few countries whose central bank holds an auction for foreign exchange. This policy was required in 2003 and was maintained harmlessly until 2012. Since then however, the auction has been manipulated for corrupt purposes. The global financial institutions should encourage the Iraqi government to find an alternative method for currency exchange

2nd For major infrastructure projects, reputable international consultation firms should be appointed to ensure all necessary precautions are taken, including in the tendering process, before any major project proceeds. This would make it more difficult for corrupt individuals to structure new deals in a way that would allow them to siphon money off when a new deal is made. Now is the right time for the financial institutions to set these conditions before funds are granted

3rd International forensic accounting and auditing firms must be appointed with a view to recovering embezzled funds from past projects. These are projects that were awarded from 2003 till now. Iraq must then work with international law enforcement agencies to try and recover as much money as possible. One can even incentivise the supporting accounting firms by giving them a percentage of monies recovered

Dr Ayad Allawi The Vice president has already proposed this recommendation to Prime Minister Dr Haider Al Abadi. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister may have been reluctant to implement this proposal. This is not because he necessarily disagrees with the idea, but actually that it would put him in direct confrontation with powerful corrupt people from within his own party as well as corrupt politicians from other parties. That is why an external party, in this case the international organisations should be the ones to consider this including this proposal as part of their financing arrangements when allocating loans or grants to Iraq

These benchmarks will mean that money coming into Iraq from these international organisations will be spent as part of an overall economic strategy and in an environment that is hostile to the corrupt. This means the Iraqi people will benefit from these funds and we can finally put Iraq’s economy back on track

Finally, I want to discuss Iraq’s security arrangements

From as early as 2007, there was a proposal for Iraq to have two comprehensive security projects; one was to prevent bomb attacks and to be implemented in Baghdad and other vulnerable cities and the second was intended to prevent insurgents from entering the country and was to be based on the border between Iraq and Syria

I would like to discuss the progress of these projects as well as how effective they are likely to be in preventing ISIS (Daesh) from re-entering Iraq after they’ve been expelled 

This project, which was comprised of two parts, was raised before the council of Ministers in 2007. The 1st part of the project could provide Baghdad with the highest level of security surveillance, like any modern city might have. For example, those who were responsible for the explosions in April 2013 at the Boston Marathon were exposed within a matter of hours. We could have achieved the same for Baghdad with this project that was proposed in 2007, and it would’ve been effective at finding the terrorist cells that were responsible for the dozens of high casualty attacks in Baghdad every year

The 2nd part of the project was to improve security at the borders between Syria and Iraq. If this had been completed, then it would have been near impossible for ISIS (Daesh) to have entered Iraq from Syria

Both projects have two stages, the consultation stage, which takes around six months, and the implementation stage, which may take approximately two years. The total cost of both projects is between 1 and 1.5 billion US dollars. Now, almost nine years have passed since the projects were approved by the Iraqi cabinet, and the consultation stage is yet to be fulfilled. The reason for this is corruption

Again, the time to implement these projects, particularly the phase that would protect the border between Iraq and Syria, is now in order to ensure that ISIS (Daesh) can no longer return to Iraq once Mosul is hopefully liberated in the near future

Today, I am also asking the International Financing Organisations to provide Iraq with a grant or soft loan for this specific project for the security of Baghdad, other main cities in Iraq and for the borders between Iraq and Syria. These two projects will limit the capabilities of ISIS (Daesh) and Al Qaeda within Iraq and ultimately, it is in the interest of all civilised countries that are fighting terrorism today

To summarise, the three key issues identified as being the cause of Iraq’s failure and the rise of Daesh are

A)Sectarian politics 

B)Economic mismanagement


And the three key ways to help defeat Daesh and put Iraq on the road to recovery are

A)To ensure that there is awareness that sectarian politics are what led to the rise of Daesh among the Iraqi people 

B)To ensure that the effort against Daesh includes an ideological battle and that this should not just be limited to Iraq; and

C)To take advantage of Iraq’s needs to borrow by putting in place restrictions to reduce corruption, and ensure that Iraq funds key infrastructure and security projects 

With Daesh’s defeat in Iraq on the horizon, now is the time to start thinking about long term solutions 

Thank you