UNDP Roundtable Discussion: Iraq’s Development Challenges

On November 2, panelists at the UNDP Washington Roundtable on “Iraq’s Development Challenges” discussed the achievements that have been made as well as the significant challenges still faced in the development of Iraq.  Frederick Tipson, Director of UNDP Washington, moderated the discussion between two panelists: Christine McNab, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq; John Desrocher, Director of US Department of State Office of Iraq Affairs; and Leslie Campbell, Regional Director for the Middle East & North Africa at the National Democratic Institute.

The broad conservation focused on several reform principles including transparency, accountability, partnership, and the need for country ownership and using local systems to produce sustainable results.  McNab emphasized the role of development, saying that it was in our humanitarian and political interest to be in Iraq.  The cost of doing nothing was illustrated by a comparison McNab made to education: “If you think education is expensive, think about the alternative, ignorance.”

Overall, the panelists noted that while there have been some accomplishments in achieving better living standards in Iraq, many problems remain.  Key challenges discussed include:

1.       Education

2.       Rebuilding the State- Public and private sectors

3.       Rule of Law

4.       Security

The panelists echoed one another saying the lack of secondary education has contributed to a gap in expertise in Iraq, making it difficult to improve development in other areas.  Many young Iraqi’s are looking for jobs that cannot be found in the dilapidated public and private sectors of the economy.  Desrocher gave an example of how agriculture should be a great employer in Iraq but is not a successful industry due to its centralized, outdated approach.

The panelists also underscored how building capacity in legal institutions will be an important step towards reducing corruption.  They argued that a grounded legal and regulatory system will be instrumental in encouraging business to both develop in and come to Iraq.  Additionally, the panel noted how businesses face difficulties with security; currently doing business in Iraq is very expensive because of the need for security.  For example, UN staff working in Iraq find security in anonymity and locals are better positioned to carry out development work because they would not be identified with the U.N.

Campbell underscored the fact that Iraq is actually much more politically developed than many other Middle Eastern countries.  There is not much consensus, however, that the current political system is better than what was previously in Iraq.  It will be necessary to educate the Iraqi people on the benefits of a democratic system of government.

To watch video coverage of the event, click here.

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