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February 6, 2008
Corruption the Number One Problem in Iraq
I suppose we can thank God for small favors when we learn that, according to StrategyPage.com , al Qaeda is so thoroughly defeated that they are bugging out of Iraq and going to Pakistan. While this reduces the threat of terrorism, problems in civil society - corruption being number one - come to the fore:
One thing the more skilled Sunni Arab administrators won't solve is the pervasive corruption. U.S. troops who deal with Iraqis a lot, complain about this culture of lying and stealing. The Iraqis take it for granted, but Americans never get used to it, and get frustrated trying to convince the Iraqis that the corruption is a major reason why nothing seems to work in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqis still believe the Americans have some magical powers that will make everything better (especially keeping the electricity on, and the getting the garbage picked up.) Saddam fostered a culture of dependence, which is a standard tool for dictators. It's proving difficult to get many Iraqis to step up and take care of themselves. The practice of backsheesh is so prevalent that reconstruction has slowed to a snail's pace because everyone has their hands out. Whether this kind of cultural attribute can be changed or modified is not known. In the meantime, corruption is likely to create almost as many headaches for Americans in Iraq as terrorism did.
The major problem in Iraq continues to be the corruption and lack of civic spirit, rather than terrorism. Even the Iraqis recognize the need to crack down on the terrorists and criminals. But this eagerness for counter-terrorism ignores the fact that the corruption is one of the main reasons for the terrorism in the first place. Al Qaeda was founded to replace the corrupt leaders of the Middle East with honest rulers. That has not worked, as one can see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two places where "Islamic Republics" were established. While many smart, knowledgeable (about how things work in the West) Iraqi leaders admit that reducing corruption would be a good thing, there is little enthusiasm for taking the lead in setting a good example. Thus the other bad guys, the corrupt politicians, clerics, businessmen and academics, continue to threaten Iraq, even as al Qaeda gets pounded into the dust.