Author: Aimen Taki

Edited by: H A Ward

The definition of the term ‘Failed State’ is very open to interpretation but the implications it can have on a state or a country are very significant. Let’s look at the meaning of the term and ask whether Iraq today is a ‘Failed State’ or not?

Different countries have different definitions for the term, however the general consensus is that, for a country to be a failed state it has to satisfy the following requirements:

1) A loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein.

2) Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions.

3) An inability to provide public services.

4) An inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

1)    A loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein

In Iraq today, the civil unrest seems to have divided the country into three main factions, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds. Although in theory all those factions answer to the central government in Baghdad you find that many of those factions seem to have given up on a government so corrupt that you can seemingly bribe your way out of the severest of situations (cue Tariq Al-Hashimi former Iraqi Vice President charged with running death squads). Therefore those factions have taken the law into their own hands and set up their own “courts”, codes, and militias for security.

However, the Kurds have taken it a step further. Kurdistan now has its own flag and seemingly its own government.

This can be interpreted as the central government losing control over its lands, and that would satisfy the first requirement. However the “Kurdish-claimed” lands of Kurdistan only occupy north western Iraq and Kurds as a faction only make up between 13% and 17% of the population. So, although the government appears no longer in control of most of Kurdistan, it is no reason for alarm since the Kurds have wanted independence ever since the Anfal genocide committed against them by Saddam Hussein and the weakness of central government has given them an opportunity which they seem to have exploited.

2)    Erosion of Legitimate authority to make collective decisions

The Iraqi Parliament is the legitimate authority that makes collective decisions in Iraq. However, unfortunately for the people of Iraq no party has an outright majority, the Iraqi National Movement (Al-Iraqia), led by Ayad Allawi won the lead (91 seats) by just 2 seats in parliament after the elections of 2010. Ayad Allawi was not made prime minster. Instead the leader of the State of Law coalition, Nouri Al-Maliky, the party with the second highest number of seats (89 seats) struck a deal with the third largest bloc the National Iraqi Alliance (70 seats) to create a coalition government. Mr Al-Maliki was made prime minster. This decision was made after months of controversy, finger pointing and negations.

However, since the State of Law Coalition and was not the majority party in parliament they have found it hard to pass laws and decisions through parliament.

This coupled with the corruption inside of parliament (according to Transparency International, Iraq’s is the most corrupt government in the Middle East) and you see a bleak picture of Iraq’s legitimate authority. However, I believe that this does not satisfy the second requirement since there is no ‘erosion of authority’. The authority is there, the collective decision making isn’t.

3)    An inability to provide public services

Public services! Where does one start? Security? This year 2013 has been the deadliest year since 2006/07 where Iraq was in a near civil war state. Up to 6,000 people have already been killed this year, with more than a thousand deaths in August alone. August also saw the escape of hundreds (some sources claim the figure is north of 1,000) of dangerous terrorists from Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons. Add to that the 200 victims in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad that were killed last week and one has to ask himself, what security?

We come on to Electricity and clean water. This summer, for the first time since 2003, electricity in some cities was provided for more than 20 hours a day, Karbala for example. This leaves poorer cities, such as Al-Koot, that have to make do with government supplied electricity which can come for as little as 4 hours a day.

In the case of clean water it is much the same story, depending on the local authorities’ enthusiasm and government allocated budegets there is a significant variation in supply of services.

As for health services, credit where credit is due, the government has identified the severe deficiencies in the health sector and has moved to rectify them. In 2010 a specialist cancer hospital was opened in Basra, whose population is suffering the consequences of the use of depleted Uranium by American forces during the gulf wars (1991, 1996 and 2003). In 2012 the government announced a deal with a foreign company to build two 400 bed hospitals in Kirkuk and Muthana. Other cities that are due to have new hospitals built include Kerbala, Al-Rashidya in Baghdad, a children’s hospital in Erbil and a 100 bed hospital in Basra. However, there are still many problems with the health sector such as unlicensed doctors, pharmacists and fake or loosly controlled medical supplies.

Public services in Iraq are a real cause for concern for Iraqi citizens, prioritising potentially income generating cities, such as Kerbala and Najaf, over cities that are in desperate need of services appears to be the direction in which the government is moving. The health sector aside, public services in Iraq are extremely lacking in effort and quality and that is making life on the streets of Iraq really difficult and therefore, unfortunately, it has to be said that Iraq unquestionably satisfies the third requirement

4)      An inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

Iraq joined the United Nations in 1945 and became a founding member of the Arab league. They were considered an important member of both institutions, especially the Arab league, until the Ba’ath Party came into power. Relationships became particularly sour after the 1991 gulf war and Iraq is still suffering some of the consequences of that strained relationship.

An example of this is Kuwait’s stance on the Iraqi airways, one of the oldest airlines in the region having been founded in 1945, a problem that stemmed from the gulf war.

Nevertheless Iraq is being seen as a bigger player everyday on the international stage and that will keep improving. There are many issues that still need to be resolved for Iraq on the international stage and as long as Iraq can maintain a strong image and successful diplomatic presence to resolve the differences then it will be seen as a strong and important member of the international community.

There is hope ..

Iraq’s oil industry is booming. The current oil output is at 3.5 million bpd and is expected to become increase to 6 million bpd by 2020 (http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-08-12/doubling-of-iraqi-oil-production-by-2020). That coupled with the absence of some regional competitors, mainly Syria and Egypt, and suddenly the potential for Iraq’s oil industry is massive.  

Agriculture is another industry on the rise. A good example of this success is Diyala where, ‘with the help of Modern Irrigation techniques’ and ‘increased automation, including automatic seeding and sowing of tomatoes’, the agricultural output has increased by a whopping 75,000 tons compared to 2012.

Other successes aren’t as easy to quantify but things such as brand new cars are more common on the streets of Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Mobile phone users has jumped from virtually none in 2003 (mobile phones were banned by Saddam Hussein) to just under one mobile phone per person. Another success is the life expectancy, in 2000 – 2005 the average life expectancy was around 58.8, today it is around 69.6. Source: BBC

 So … what’s the verdict?

Today, technically, Iraq is not a ‘Failed State’ since it does not satisfy the four requirements outlined previously. However, it is at a crossroads. There are more problems than solutions, and although the potential is there for Iraq to improve and regain the status it deserves, this will not happen if the situation in Iraq stays on its current path. Fundamental changes must occur and very soon. Corruption MUST be tackled and security forces need to step up their attempts to stem terrorist activities that have destroyed the lives of thousands of households in Iraq. Nevertheless most importantly, the government needs to regain legitimacy in the eyes of its people. I believe the trust between the people and their elected officials is the most important aspect of any democracy and the day that Iraqi government regains that trust is the day Iraq will start to be a fully functioning state.


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