Instapundit has a lengthy note from a Colonel in Baghdad on the recent fighting in Basra. He observes that the driving force in that conflict was not Moqtada al-Sadr, but the lack of services being provided by the Iraqi Government. Indeed, that highlights a bigger issue: over the long term, the biggest problem in Iraq isn’t terrorism. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been largely crushed. Moqtada al-Sadr was forced to cry uncle and is viewed by all as an Iranian stooge. While there are still acts of violence in Iraq, they’re less and less the sort of organized attacks that we’ve seen over the course of the war.
The real issue is going to be corruption. The biggest roadblock to democratization is corruption, and it’s endemic in Iraq. The Iraqis have a source of revenue in oil, and it’s enough to sustain their development. The problem is without a system of accountability and transparency, that money won’t go to where it’s needed.
Over time, we’re going to need a new “surge”—but one that focuses on working with the Iraqi government to stop corruption. We’re in a unique position to help, and working alongside the Iraqis we need to develop systems that help make sure money goes to where it is truly needed and those that steal from the Iraqi treasury are brought to justice.
Most NGOs focus on issues other than helping improve the rule of law in foreign nations—and it seems counterintuitive to think that accountants rather than aid workers can truly help developing nations. Yet, if a nation is to transition successfully from autocracy to democracy, fiscal accountability is absolutely crucial. Many democratizing states fail to democratize because the government does not act with accountability to the people, which causes the people to lose faith in government.
The US needs to work with NGOs like Transparency International and the Iraqi government to create a more democratic and accountable political and financial system for the Iraqi people. We have made great strides in terms of fighting terrorism and providing security—yet that alone won’t be enough to make Iraq a strong and functional nation. The future of Iraq hinges on the ability of the government to provide critical services while remaining accountable to the people. If it cannot do this, then the Iraqi people will be forced to turn to militia leaders for help, and Iraqi society will fragment. This does not have to come to pass, but in order to prevent it we have to start looking beyond basic security and towards governmental reform.