Nation-Building: A Success in Iraq?

Did the U.S. spending of $53 billion on reconstruction efforts, or “nation-building,” work in Iraq? According to New York Times’ columnist David Brooks, it did. Unfortunately, however, his argument is flawed on numerous counts by selective evidence.

To begin with, he cites the International Monetary Fund’s report that Iraq will have the twelfth fastest growing economy in the world with a projected 7% economic growth this year, but such a statistic is misleading because, as in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, this expansion is almost entirely due to rising oil prices, and has nothing to do with development projects funded by U.S. taxpayers. Indeed, Iraq has become increasingly oil-dependent like its neighbors in the Gulf region, such that petroleum revenues account for about 70% of GDP and around 90% of government revenues.

The growing reliance on oil for income is having several adverse effects. Most importantly, since the oil industry is not labor intensive, the present government can do little to alleviate the problem of unemployment in the country that stands at approximately 15%. Nations that depend on petroleum exports for income normally create bureaucratic jobs that serve little practical purpose to compensate for the lack of employment opportunities offered by the petroleum industry. Nonetheless, this cannot be done much further in Iraq, where the state is already the largest employer with a workforce of around 3 million, or roughly 10% of the population.  Since 2005, the number of public employees has doubled.

In fact, the revenues from petroleum have provided the government an excuse for leaving unreformed the top-down, centralized command economy that is a legacy of, in the words of Daniel Pipes, the “Stalinist nightmare of Saddam Hussein,” from which Iraq is still emerging. The results? Massive corruption and inefficient bureaucracy that hinder any major reconstruction efforts. If anything, the pouring in of development money from the U.S. has only increased corruption. In 2003, Iraq ranked 113th out of 133 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Six years later, Iraq fell to 176th out of 180 countries.

As for bureaucracy, one need only look at the prolonged and poor quality construction of schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and electricity substations. In 2009, the World Bank ranked Iraq 153rd out of 183 countries for ease of doing business, and 94th out of 183 countries for dealing with construction permits. On average, fourteen permits are required to build anything in the country and take 215 days to complete. For example, in May, the city of Karbala in the south announced a plan to build 250 housing units, yet by the end of June, nothing had happened owing to difficulty in obtaining the necessary licenses.

A further problem is that ambitious reconstruction projects funded by U.S. taxpayers, even if finished, lack skilled workers to manage them effectively, something which Brooks concedes. Such an outcome was a result of the fact that Iraqis were often not consulted as to whether they wanted these reconstruction projects in the first place. For instance, in Hilla, sixty miles south of Baghdad, a $4 million maternity hospital built by the U.S. is largely unable to serve its purpose because the staff cannot operate most of the equipment. Likewise, a sewage treatment system in Fallujah, at a cost of $104 million, has been left partly finished, unable to operate at full capacity and only able to serve at most one sixth of the city’s residents because of poor quality work on construction and a lack of sufficiently trained Iraqi staff to put it to proper use.

A minor point advanced by Brooks is the fact that there is increased Internet access, along with ownership and availability of consumer goods such as cell phones. Again, though, none of this can be attributed to U.S. spending on reconstruction efforts, but is actually due to the removal of tariffs by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in the period 2003-2004, which led to a flood of cheap imports from China, Iran and Turkey and aggravated the problem of unemployment in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Moreover, ownership of consumer goods is not a real indication of the humanitarian situation in Iraq, which has the highest illiteracy rate and the second highest infant mortality rate in the Middle East.

With all these major shortcomings, is it any surprise that the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, in direct contradiction of Brooks’ explicit statement that “nation building…has been a success,” considers the rebuilding enterprise since 2003 a failure?

Nevertheless, the question arises of who is to blame for this monumental waste of money. Of course, one feels tempted to blame Iraqis, but as Daniel Pipes concludes, “the real blame belongs with the George W. Bush administration which had a vision of “a free, … stable, democratic, and prosperous Iraq” and did not let realities get in the way of its fantasy. As so often was the case with Bush, the motives were good but the implementation terrible.”

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Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Oxford University and an intern at the Middle East Forum. 

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  • Tom Baxter

    $53 billion??? Does that count the ~$20 billion in cash shipped directly from the FED that dissappeared in 2003?
    15% unemployment, that’s the US unemployment rate.
    ~40-50 % unemployment is a lot closer for Iraq.

  • Whoa whoa whoa! Hold on a second here.

    A disciple of the Daniel Pipes school (and a volunteer at Pipes’ despicable Middle East Forum) thinks that post-invasion Iraq hasn’t worked out the way it should have? Surprise surprise.

    Unfortunately, the entire premise of this article is not to objectively look at the squandered funding for the so-called “reconstruction” of a country the United States single-handed reduced to dust and rubble, but rather to promote the absurd and offensive rantings and worldview of the author’s mentor, the deplorable Daniel Pipes.

    Pipes is a serial Muslim-hater and raging anti-Arab propagandist who, in his fawning service to everything Zionist and imperial, has done his best to silence truth, academic freedom, and any criticism of his beloved Israel through his truly McCarthyite organization “Campus Watch.”

    In addition to promoting the “Obama is a secret Muslim” mantra of millions of racist Tea Party psychotics, Pipes believes that at least 10 to 15 percent of the worlds’ Muslim are “militants” and that “all Muslims, unfortunately, are suspect.” It is no wonder that James Zogby has stated that “Pipes is to Muslims what David Duke is to African-Americans.”

    Back in 1990, Pipes wrote that Western society is “unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene…All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most.” When this statement garnered a negative response in the press, Pipes pretended that he didn’t really mean it like that. Clearly, Pipes is not only a racist, he’s also a coward.

    In 2001, before the convention of the American Jewish Congress, he stated, “I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews.”

    Pipes is also a longtime advocate and public mouthpiece of the Bomb Iran crowd. This should not be surprising considering his unabashed militarism, especially when it comes to his protecting Israel. (Pipes once lamented, “What war had achieved for Israel, diplomacy has undone.”) He routinely repeats lies about the Iranian nuclear program, its threat to Israel, and about Iran’s involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A few years ago he suggested the US government “unleash” the MEK, an exiled Iranian terror cult, “to challenge the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

    While it is indeed both wrong and offensive to describe the current situation in Iraq “an American accomplishment that has been too hard won,” as David Brooks does in the article cited above, the reasons mentioned by Mr. Al-Tamimi deliberately omit crucial considerations.

    For one, Al-Tamimi never once utters the word “occupation.” Perhaps he believes this is implicit in his analysis, but having reviewed some of his past writings, this is probably completely intentional. Coming from the Pipes-influenced cesspool of thought (which considers the neoconservative Weltanschauung of the Project for the New American Century to be “a wonderful vision”), as he does, Al-Tamimi never thinks to point out why Iraq might be struggling and who might be responsible for its current situation.

    Sure, there’s the throw-away line to close the piece which talks of American misguidance, but this only serves to promote the Pipes view once more. The closing statement doesn’t so much pin the problem on a 12-plus-year bombing campaign, a brutal sanctions regime which killed over half a million Iraqis, most of them children, or a seven-year occupation that has taken the lives of well over a million Iraqis, orphaned over four million Iraqi children, and made refugees of at least four million, but rather on good intentions gone wrong. As Al-Tamimi has Pipes appallingly sum up: “As so often was the case with Bush, the motives were good but the implementation terrible.”

    Al-Tamimi’s agenda is clear. He parrots the Pipes line that the US is squandering money in post-invasion Iraq when it shouldn’t even be there anymore. Never is the invasion a question of legality or morality, of course, only the length of the occupation and the responsibilities thereof. In Pipes’ (and presumably Al-Tamimi’s) opinion, Iraq’s dire state is not the problem of the coalition that invaded and occupied it.

    As Pipes once said himself, “I think it is possible and necessary at times to go to war without taking responsibility for the country that you make war on.”

    When asked about continued violence in Iraq, Pipes was indifferent and uninterested. “A civil war in Iraq, it doesn’t very much affect those of us who don’t live in Iraq. It’s not really our problem.” Then, backtracking slightly, Pipes continued by saying, “Well, some countries far away are important to us, and… but not every country far away is important to us.”

    It is more than clear that, in Pipes’ sick heart, while Israel should remain near and dear to American concern, the countries in same region that weren’t born of ethnic cleansing and garrison-colonialism don’t really matter all that much (unless, of course, they threaten that beloved nuclear-armed ethnocracy).

    As such, Pipes then suggested that, in order to “to prevent the Iranian regime from building weapons of mass destruction, it is not therefore necessary that we who undertake that mission rehabilitate and fix Iran. We can just destroy some industrial military positions without fixing the country.”

    It appears that Al-Tamimi, as a devout follower of the Pipesian creed, believes much the same thing. After all, Al-Tamimi thinks that the Park51 project is “an unnecessary act of provocation at best and a project with a dubious agenda at worst.” In a surreal conglomeration of irony and hilarity, he has advised the Obama administration to “persuade Saudi Arabia to stop conducting air strikes in Yemeni territory,” even as the US continues to commit war crimes by murdering dozens of Yemeni civilians in illegal drone assaults.

    Perhaps most disgusting, is Al-Tamimi’s support for Jundallah and other Baluchi separatist groups, that have carried out numerous deadly attacks in southeast Iran and Pakistan, echoing his mentor’s “unleash” strategy. Both Jeremy R. Hammond, editor of Foreign Policy Journal, and I have written extensively about Jundallah’s murderous activities, as well as its connections to American intelligence agencies. Al-Tamimi believes that the US should covertly support these separatist groups in an effort to pit Iran and Pakistan against each other and reap the benefits from whatever fallout there may be. By providing these groups funding by which to conduct more attacks in both Iran and Pakistan, Al-Tamimi hopes to distract the governments of these countries and, in the case of Iran, “divert the regime’s attention from pursuing the nuclear program and embolden the Green movement.”

    So, basically, Al-Tamimi is encouraging, not only US-backed regime change, but also US-bankrolled terrorism. As he writes, “Adopting such policies is in Western interests, and we must acknowledge that fact.”

    Needless to say, I’ll bet Al-Tamimi enjoyed incinerating ants with a magnifying glass when he was a lad.

    In sum, Al-Tamimi’s analysis is offensive to people who seek truth and justice, believe in human and civil rights, respect international law, abhor imperialism and Western exceptionalism, refuse to demonize Islam and its adherents in the service of Zionist warmongering, and reject Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” ideology.

    As a result, I believe Al-Tamimi’s perspective to be wholly contrary to that of Foreign Policy Journal and am surprised to find his work promoted here. It’s not about differing viewpoints, or desiring a homogeneous environment wherein no dissent is allowed, but rather about disseminating the writing of a promoter of continued Western imperialism and American Empire, whose racist, hate-filled mentor (Pipes) has devoted his life to championing everything that FPJ stands against.

    Aymenn, since you’re already published on “American Thinker,” perhaps you should try to get on “Pajamas Media,” as well, if you haven’t already. Maybe they’ll make you king of their cesspool.

    Best of luck.


    For a more accurate and respectable analysis of where the Iraqi reconstruction money has really gone, check out Ed Harriman’s 2005 piece in the London Review of Books:

    …and this 2007 BBC report:

    • UnknownCardiffPrankster

      I’ll bet Al-Tamimi enjoyed incinerating ants with a magnifying glass when he was a lad.

  • Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

    Tom Baxter:

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t think the total U.S. spending of $53 billion includes the $20 billion sum you mention. I will check to be sure though.

    As for the unemployment rate in Iraq, it varies across the country: 15% is the national average. In some places it is around 40-50%, but in many parts of Iraqi Kurdistan it is almost zero, for instance. Incidentally, the unemployment rate has slowly declined over the past few years.

  • Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

    “Pipes is a serial Muslim-hater and raging anti-Arab propagandist”

    He does not hate Muslims or Arabs.

    “promoting the “Obama is a secret Muslim” mantra of millions of racist Tea Party psychotics”

    No. He said that Obama practised Islam as a child (which he did). There’s nothing wrong with that: in fact, I believe Obama is in a unique position to stand up for the plight of apostates from Islam who are persecuted in the Muslim world, something you do not care about.

    “It is no wonder that James Zogby has stated that “Pipes is to Muslims what David Duke is to African-Americans.”

    David Duke promotes lynchings and other acts of white supremacist terrorism against black Americans: Pipes does not advocate such deeds of terror against Muslims.

    “Back in 1990, Pipes wrote etc.”

    Pipes was not describing his own perspective, but that of Europeans. It’s obvious from the context of the rest of the article.

    “Pipes is also a longtime advocate and public mouthpiece of the Bomb Iran crowd”

    I don’t agree with Pipes’ certainty that an American pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be a good thing. My own position is the same as that of Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine (a good friend of mine as well, Nima): absolute agnosticism. It’s a good idea not to presume that I am a clone of Pipes who repeats everything he says.

    “For one, Al-Tamimi never once utters the word “occupation.””

    Why should I mention the word “occupation”? Reconstruction efforts in the past have been successful even under occupation (West Germany and Japan are good examples). In any case, in Iraq it was not quite the same: it was the US that defined how long it could run an occupation in West Germany and Japan, in Iraq since 2004 it has been up to the government in Baghdad to decide when US troops should leave. Now, in the event that said government asks all troops to leave by, say, next month, then the US should comply. When Pipes was speaking about not taking responsibility for the country you make war on, he meant it was not the business of the US to involve its troops so heavily in Iraqi cities: in other words, as he put it, “let Iraqis run Iraq”.

    “Al-Tamimi’s agenda is clear. He parrots the Pipes line that the US is squandering money in post-invasion Iraq when it shouldn’t even be there anymore”

    You have entirely misread my article. Read it again and you’ll see that it’s not reconstruction per se I have a problem with, but rather the way the US went about it. For reconstruction to be meaningful, as my article should make clear, it has to take into account realities on the ground: building huge projects with the most up-to-date technology is no good if locals aren’t consulted as to whether they want it, can manage it etc. It is also foolish to pour in development money if the central government is not transparent. In short, the problem is not that $53 billion was devoted to reconstruction, but that the money was not used wisely in such efforts. Reconstruction should have been much more on a local scale, and it wasn’t inevitable that most of the money would be wasted, so the fault lies with the Bush administration. Pipes has the same perspective.

    “When asked about continued violence in Iraq, Pipes was indifferent and uninterested”

    No: he stated quite clearly that he did not wish for a civil war and hoped it would not happen ( He was just explaining the point of view solely regarding strategic interests: that namely, a civil war in Iraq wouldn’t affect them. Note in that same interview he states explicitly that he has “nothing against” paying for reconstruction.

    “Al-Tamimi thinks that the Park51 project is “an unnecessary act of provocation at best and a project with a dubious agenda at worst.””

    Well, that’s how most New Yorkers perceive it, and it’s entirely understandable: in the same way, Serb attempts to build Orthodox churches in the vicinity of Srebrenica are viewed as acts of provocation by Bosniak Muslims. Do you regard those Bosniaks as evil and bigoted?

    “In a surreal conglomeration of irony and hilarity, he has advised the Obama administration to “persuade Saudi Arabia to stop conducting air strikes in Yemeni territory,” even as the US continues to commit war crimes by murdering dozens of Yemeni civilians in illegal drone assaults.”

    Yes, you are quoting me correctly here. Yet may I suggest you go back to elementary school to revise basic comprehension skills? You see, I also wrote in that article (

    “Finally, the U.S. might wish to consider urging the central government to grant semi-autonomy to the country’s north, but SHOULD in any case HALT DRONE ATTACKS (emphasis mine own). As in Somalia, the U.S. faces a situation where overt military intervention undermines its allies.”

    See? I call for an end to US drone attacks too. Even Ali Gharib noticed this.

    “Al-Tamimi’s support for Jundallah”

    Oops, guess you didn’t read that article fully either. Here’s what I wrote (

    “The subject of Balochistan has been neglected for too long, and it is now time to support covertly Balochi separatists in both Pakistan and Iran. This does NOT mean supporting Islamists like the Jundallah (emphasis mine own), but rather ending the designation of the Balochistan Liberation Army as a terrorist group by the U.K., inter alia”

    Oh, Nima. Do you honestly think that no one will check your comments? I said the precise opposite of what you claimed. I do not advocate supporting Jundallah because they are Islamists, as the quotation illustrates. I also say this unequivocally: Jundallah is a terrorist group, and there’s no excuse for what they do. But really: what is your problem with supporting the Baloch liberation struggle? Apart from the Jundallah, the other Baloch separatists have a just cause as well: it’s not only interests that matter here. Incidentally, I don’t see you decrying the Iranian and Pakistani occupation of Baloch land? Or does your view of what constitutes “occupation” not extend to the people whose land you occupy against their will? I understand perfectly why you despise the Baloch cause: Iran works to suppress it, and for you as an Iranian anything Iran does is fine as long as it stands up to the Great Satan (i.e. the US )and its sidekick Israel. What’s the matter: are the 8000 Baloch student activists who have disappeared in Pakistani torture chambers not good enough for you? What a disgusting hypocrite you are.

    “reject Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” ideology.”

    Well, I see you agree on something with me (and Pipes)! Huntington’s thesis is simplistic and dogmatic (to put it kindly). Who knows? We may find more common ground in the future (in the meantime, please let me know what you think of, another article by me).

  • JosephConrad

    What a joke! For every WORTHLESS DOLLAR supposedly ‘spent’ on Iraqi
    ‘reconstruction’, AT LEAST $100.00 went to US Energy Resources ‘allies’ in the nation in h form of BRIBES!

    The US political and corporate elites will keep that now-poor nation in a state of perpetual chaos and savage povertry until it extracts ALL it’s Oil and Gas! HAT’S what America’s elites will define as ‘Final Victory’ in the Middle East…

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