Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Baghdad Doesn’t Provide Services To Sunnis? No, It Doesn’t Serve Anyone

There have been many reports that Sunnis in areas such as Anbar province have been denied aid and services from Baghdad. In July 2008 for example, the Azzaman paper reported that Sunni tribes in Ramadi complained that the city lacked water, electricity, and other basic needs. The usual explanation was that the government was sectarian, and was denying Sunni areas for political reasons. The sad truth is the central and provincial authorities do not provide basic services to most of the country whether they are Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd.

It is a fact that Anbar does lack basic necessities. 99% of the province is Sunni. On an average day, only 53% of the province’s electricity needs are being met. There is also a lack of usable water. The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party runs the provincial government. They have not done a good job since they took over after the January 2005 elections. In 2007 for example, they were appropriated $107 million for investment in infrastructure, but only spent $4 million of it, 3.7% according to the Iraqi Finance Ministry. That was the lowest percentage spent in Iraq by any of the country’s eighteen provinces. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) went farther saying that Anbar hadn’t spent any of its capital budget for 2007 or 2008. It also noted that the province suffered from a lack of coordination with Baghdad over development, and also had problems with corruption. Blaming sectarianism by the central government would seem like a plausible explanation for Anbar’s woes. However, it was allocated the 9th largest capital budget in 2007, and its inability to spend it was due to a Sunni party, not Baghdad. Muthanna, Maysan, and Qadisiyah provinces in the south that are 100% Shiite, but were given the smallest capital budgets by the central government in 2007. In fact, Anbar is no better nor worse than most of the country’s governorates, pointing to a general breakdown in Baghdad’s ability to serve its public no matter what their sect.

Babil, Karbala, Maysan, Muthanna Najaf, and Qadisiyah, which are all 95-100% Shiite, are suffering because of this. Babil does not have enough water. Maysan is the poorest province in Iraq with 64% of the population living below the poverty level. The schools, electricity, and medical care are so bad that the SIGIR said they were “population repelling” forcing many people to leave because the situation was so bad there. Muthanna was another poor province where the populace is living off of subsistence farming. There, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) led government only spent 19% of its $52 million capital budget to invest in infrastructure according to the Finance Ministry. It was also given the smallest such budget out of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. On August 24, 2008 there was a demonstration in the provincial capital of Samawa against the SIIC led council, accusing them of corruption, and failed reconstruction projects that denied the people of services. Qadisiyah has high unemployment, and lacks trash collection, and adequate hospitals. Karbala and Najaf hold two of the most holiest sites for Shiites, yet the former has power and water shortages, and only 46% of its electricity needs are met on an average day, while the latter has a provincial government that has shown little desire to improve much of its infrastructure. During the Saddam years, the south was the poorest part of the country. They thought they were neglected because they were Shiites. Today, the poorest parts of Iraq are still in the south. Despite the Shiites finally being able to take power after the U.S. invasion, their parties have not been able to provide the fruits of that political victory to many of their followers.

The three provinces of Dahuk, Irbil, and Sulaymaniyah that constitute Kurdistan did not do much better. The Iraqi Finance Ministry claims that they spent 95% of their capital budgets in 2007, but they still lack many basics. This apparent contradiction is explained by the fact that Finance counts all money given to Kurdistan as spent whether it is or not. Irbil and Sulamaniyah, for example, were the worst at meeting average daily electricity needs in the country, with only 32% being met in the former. Some Kurds are not happy with this situation, and on August 18, 2008 residents of the city of Khlifan in northeastern Irbil protested against their lack of services. That led to a clash with local security forces in which one person was killed and four were wounded. Irony of Irony, in Tamim and Salahaddin provinces that are 73% and 88% Sunni respectively, but are run by Kurds because the Sunnis boycotted the 2005 elections, they meet 70% of their electricity needs on average, tied for second best in the country. Kurdistan is by far the safest part of Iraq. Many believe that they must be doing the best because of that. They are in fact lacking in some basics like electricity, just as the rest of the country is.

The central government has a much larger budget, and plays a bigger role in providing services, but has not done much better than the provinces. As reported here earlier, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the SIGIR, and the New York Times have all found Baghdad woefully inadequate when it comes to investing in Iraq’s future and providing services. The Times found that Iraq has only spent 18% of its 2008 budget so far. The GAO and SIGIR have consistently pointed out that of the money that Baghdad does spend, it is overwhelmingly for operational costs such as salaries, with only a small percent of the capital budget ever being touched. In 2007 for example, only 11% of the capital budgets of the ministries was spent according to SIGIR. This has a huge affect upon specific services. Despite a 12% increase in electrical production in the quarter ending on June 30, 2008, the government was still only able to meet 55% of the public’s needs, and service in different provinces and cities varies widely. Despite increasing budgets, many average Iraqis have not felt much of an improvement. Electricity production and water delivery have increased, but they are still below U.S. benchmarks and do not meet demand.

One of the basic jobs of government is to provide for the health, sanitation, and power needs of the public. Baghdad has not been able to accomplish that. Sectarianism is an issue with the government, but when it comes to services, it has served Shiite and Kurdish areas just as badly as Sunni ones.

SOURCES

al-Mansouri, Omar, “Violence returns to Anbar following months of relative quiet,” Azzaman, 7/15/08

Robertson, Campbell and Glanz, James, “Iraqi Figures Back U.S. View on Low Spending for Reconstruction,” New York Times, 8/21/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/08

United States Government Accountability Office, “Iraqi Revenues, Expenditures, and Surplus,” August 2008

Voices of Iraq, “1 killed, 4 wounded in protest march in Arbil,” 8/18/08
- “Dozens rally demonstrations to protest corruption in Muthana,” 8/24/08

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