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Nesreen Barwari, Minister for Municipalities and Public Works, Iraq

This event was cosponsored with The Initiative for Inclusive Security.

Nesreen Barwari began by recognizing the accomplishments that have been achieved in Iraq over the past year, with the support of the international community and the U.S. government, and through the resilience of the Iraqi people. On a political level, Iraq saw three national elections and a new constitution in 2005. On the security side, Iraqi security forces are increasingly empowered daily, and Iraqi forces are currently in charge of 60% of Iraqi security, she said. In terms of infrastructure, progress has been slow but steady, with the creation of new projects and the rehabilitation of old ones. Seven million Iraqis have running water for the first time, and the sanitation and waste disposal system has been expanded to cover 1.5 million more Iraqis. Iraq is also seeing improvement in the provision of electricity, health services, and education. Minister Barwari noted that these advances have been achieved despite a threatening security situation and with limited resources that are insufficient to fund a recovery from thirty years of neglect.

The coming government, Minister Barwari stated, must have an investment strategy plan that focuses on capacity development and sustainability. In order for Iraq to recover, the international community should assist with aid and debt forgiveness. Iraq itself must move away from a huge public sector infrastructure and a dependence on oil. Economic recovery cannot be achieved unless the Iraqi government makes some tough decisions, some of which were initiated this past year, such as increasing oil prices and cutting food rations and subsidies. Without a growing economy she indicated, Iraqis will not achieve a basic level of living standards.

In order to realize a unified and lasting democracy, she said Iraqis must overcome the challenges posed by democratization, security, and the economy. Minister Barwari noted that full participation in the December 2005 elections by all communities has increased chances of success, and that a unity government is in the process of formation. Furthermore, it is no surprise that voting occurred mostly along sectarian lines, because Saddam fostered cleavages in the Iraqi population. Today, Minister Barwari stated, politicians are seeking a common ground. While the Shi'a Alliance won a simple majority of seats, they must form a coalition in order to form a two-thirds majority.

Minister Barwari argued that cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian cooperation is needed to reach agreement on two major issues. Firstly, the government of national unity must include major players from all parties. A partnership with the Sunnis will undercut insurgents and Saddamists, and all of Iraq will benefit by the inclusion of Sunni Arabs in the political process. Minister Barwari recognized that Iraqi politicians understand the need for national unity and Sunni participation, but that they have different interpretations of what that looks like in practice. Shi'a politicians seek a majority cabinet, while Sunni politicians seek a representation in the cabinet disproportionate to the votes they received. For the Sunnis, Minister Barwari explained, control of security and the limitation of de-Baathification are the important issues. The Kurds are emerging as Iraqi arbiters, and will likely mediate between the Shi'a and Sunni groups. After the fall of Saddam, Minister Barwari stated, Kurds gave up semi-independence to participate in Iraq's reconstruction.

Secondly, Minister Barwari noted the Iraqi unity government must come to an understanding about the Iraqi Constitution. Sunni Arab agreement to the Constitution was a turning point in Iraqi politics, but it was given with the condition that the Constitution would be revisited later. However, this month some Shi'a leaders said that any substantial change would not be possible. The Iraqi government must be willing to make compromises on federalism, a bill of assurances, and economic openness, among other issues.

Overall, the new Iraqi government will be judged by its ability to deliver security and a basic level of living conditions to the people. Minister Barwari argued that Iraq will need the cooperation of its neighbors: Syria must stop allowing Saddamists to travel freely across the Syrian-Iraqi border, and Iran must realize that security requires a stable Iraq. With sufficient development of democratization, security, and reconstruction, 2006 could be another turning point with Iraq, if Iraqis work with each other and with the international community.

Drafted by Mariam Al-Shamma