There is no secret behind the success of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region on the economic and service levels. The region endured, until 2003, extremely tough security and political circumstances that affected its infrastructure and left these cities far behind other Iraqi cities. However, since 2003, the region has made a huge leap forward on all levels and has wisely invested money in the right places. Meanwhile, money has been terribly squandered in all of Iraq’s other regions.
Today, there is no comparison between the cities of the Kurdistan region and other Iraqi cities. Kurds have managed to traverse the economic-transition process by way of a budget amounting to 17% of the federal Iraqi budget, while the remaining 83% of the Iraqi budget was misplaced.
It is no coincidence that the Iraqi Kurdistan Region can provide electricity to its three cities (Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk) with only $1 billion in investments and can even import power to cities like Kirkuk and Mosul, while the remaining Iraqi cities cannot budge the slightest bit in the power sector, even with their $44 billion in investments.
When you ask Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani — a calm Kurdish man in charge of the energy and oil-management file in the region — for the reason, he answers that the will to achieve was stronger than bureaucratic complications.
In 2006, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristani, who was responsible for the energy file in Baghdad, promised Iraqis that their country would export electric power in 2011 — the same year he had promised to raise oil production to seven million barrels per day. Yet today, in 2013, Baghdad is still unable to provide power to its own citizens, while oil production (currently at 2.9 million barrels per day) will not be able to exceed the five-million-barrel-per-day threshold for several more years.
The controversy lies in the fact that when 60-year-old Shahristani, a physicist, was the minister of energy, he refused to heed the advice of then-deputy prime minister for Economic Affairs in Kurdistan Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Barzani regarding both files. So the Iraqi Kurdistan Region sought to attract more investments in the energy and oil exploration sectors, thus turning the region into a haven for international companies who were running away from the stringent bureaucracy in Iraq’s other regions.
Thus, the secret is not hidden somewhere between the investment laws of Iraq and those of the Kurdistan Region. It rather lies in a mentality of imagination and will to achieve, compared to a mentality that insists on facing today’s challenges with yesterday’s laws.
Nobody in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region claims that their experience was free of corruption, but the current opposition-led movement in the region was initially formed due to factional corruption. However, this corruption does not stand in the way, but rather on the sidelines, of development, and it is resolvable through deterrent measures. For this reason, 17% of the Iraqi federal budget was sufficient to fulfill the region’s main goals.
When Shahristani objected to the oil contracts the region signed with international oil companies, dismissing them as illegal, Iraq’s oil revenues were slowly, but effectively, increasing. The budget has also witnessed growth from $50 billion in 2006 to $138 billion in 2013. However, the growing revenues that were achieved due to global economic changes and oil-price leaps did not have any effect on the lives of Iraqis. Development continued to regress while electric power remained absent. This oil-producing country which failed to build new oil refineries started importing its oil derivatives from abroad.
The corruption spreading into the core sectors of the Iraqi government did not effect any tangible change. The big budgets are consequently being absorbed and the conservative bureaucracy has not been able to trace them, despite its claims of greater transparency than Kurdistan in financial management.
There are no secrets here. Instead, there is a will to achieve — a will that that Iraq has been missing for many years.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi is an Iraqi writer specializing in the defense of democracy. He has extensive experience in documenting testimony and archiving documentaries associated with repressive practices. He has written many books, including Humanitarian Concerns, which was selected in 2000 by the European Union as the best book written by a refugee.