Readers could guess for themselves what Reuters’ take on Basra would be from the headline: Peace dividend in Iraq’s Basra faces obstacles. Just two months after the Iraqi Army sent Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia running, Reuters reports that the economy has caught fire, with new businesses opening, property values escalating, and people free to enjoy the fruits of honest labor. However, Reuters focuses on the negatives, including that the entire infrastructure needs haven’t been completely addressed in three months:
Three months after a security crackdown in Iraq’s oil capital of, there are signs of economic revival. But investment to help secure the peace faces hurdles from bureaucratic inertia, lack of technical skills and foreign businesses’ uncertainty about whether the calm will hold. ….
But business owners said decrepit infrastructure, including electricity limited to a few hours a day, was the biggest hindrance, especially during summer heat that hit 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) this week. …
And local government spending and development is hampered by the lack of planning and technical expertise, a hangover from decades of top-down control under the late dictator.
Agencies and local governments can face delays in disbursement of funds. With Basra’s provincial budget climbing to $300 million this year, inexperienced officials are struggling to manage and spend it, with many bids for contracts failing to meet specifications, the PRT source said.
Yes, and all of this was going to be fixed in twelve weeks? Basra was in the grip of Mahdi Army terrorists for years, terrorists who chased out the competent and the experienced in favor of those loyal to Sadr. The Mahdis, in case anyone needs a reminder, didn’t put much stock in investment, construction, or urban planning.
The complaint about the “lack of planning” is actually the most revealing in the piece. The local and national government have had twelve weeks to create a plan for a city of millions. Does Ian Simpson believe that any nation could generate a plan for a city the size of Basra in that time? His article notes the inexperience of officials in managing a $300 million budget and their struggle to spend it, but shouldn’t they conduct the planning before spending it — and wouldn’t that account for the “struggle” that Simpson reports?
Before we declare Basra a failure, how about giving them a chance to succeed? In fact, that could easily describe the media’s entire Iraq narrative over the last five years — writing it off without waiting to see how the story would actually end.