Opening a New Era in U.S.-Iraq Relations
Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to lift international trade and financial sanctions on Iraq that have been in effect since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. Iraq's exit from Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter—and the substantial progress it has made with Kuwait—is a major accomplishment, and one of several recent developments we Iraqis are celebrating.
Though most Americans probably believe that Iraqis are fed up with the U.S., the truth is that Iraqis appreciate what the U.S. has done and are looking for more U.S. involvement—not more sacrifice of blood and treasure, but more diplomatic, political, trade, investment and economic partnership.
The next clear step is for the U.S. and Iraq to fully implement the Strategic Framework Agreement, signed prior to the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces, which defines the overall political, economic, cultural and security ties between our two countries. Americans should see this agreement not as a ticket out of Iraq, but as the foundation for a long-term partnership with the people and government of Iraq.
At a time of profound change in the Middle East, the implementation of the agreement has so far been slow and uneven. While security coordination through military sales and financing programs continues, an expedited delivery of promised sales, better intelligence sharing, and stepped-up assistance in counterterrorism and training is essential for Iraq's fight against terrorism—a clear national security interest of the U.S. Implementing this agreement should not be linked to regional issues, such as the conflict in Syria.
As we look forward to full implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement, the legacy of the past 10 years is something to build on. After decades of dictatorship, three disastrous wars, international isolation, economic sanctions, the displacement of more than a million Iraqis and the deaths of tens of thousands more, Iraq has begun to build a multiethnic, multiparty democracy with respect for the rule of law.
It hasn't been easy. But Iraqis are making progress towards creating a democratic system. All the political parties have accepted elections as a method of power-sharing and peaceful change. Terrible as it is, the current violence in Iraq is primarily caused by terrorism, not civil war. As the recent provincial elections affirmed, Iraqis are developing a culture of democracy—something that many of our neighbors do not yet have.
With Iraq taking its place as a partner, not a protectorate, Americans can help by providing political, diplomatic and security assistance, in addition to technical know-how and investment capital.
On the political front, the U.S. can serve as an honest broker among Iraqi factions that are learning to work with each other. Americans are seen as mature partners who have proven their commitment to Iraq, and their involvement is not perceived as a threat to our sovereignty or national interest.
On the diplomatic front, Iraq has rejoined the international community by exiting Chapter VII, and it has done important work with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Arab League. Looking ahead, Iraq and the U.S. can cooperate to resolve broader regional challenges.
Now that Iraq is moving toward a market economy friendly to foreign investment, Americans can provide what our nation needs: expertise on energy technologies, engineering, design, construction and financial services. Iraq offers tremendous investment opportunities for developing and servicing telecommunications, health care, education, water treatment, and bridges and highways, to name a few.
Meanwhile, oil production has increased by 50% since 2005, and our economy is expected to grow by at least 9.4% annually through 2016. Iraq expects to increase oil production to 4.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 and nine million barrels a day by 2020—a 157% increase from our current production levels. With the goal of diversifying our economy beyond energy, Iraq plans to invest these oil revenues in education and critical development projects, including restoring electrical power and rebuilding our transportation system.
Moreover, Iraq is in the process of purchasing over $10 billion worth of military equipment, paid for with our own revenues, and we are eager to buy this hardware from the U.S. Iraq's recent purchase of 30 Boeing planes for our national carrier testifies to our potential as a market for U.S. goods and services.
Iraqis will be forever grateful to Americans for sacrificing alongside us to overthrow Saddam's brutal tyranny. We now look forward to working together to build a strong and prosperous democracy in Iraq and to cement a strategic partnership between our nations.