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Iraq: Where are Iraqis in the economic reconstruction of their country?

'It is worrying that human rights are not even mentioned on the detailed, 8-page conference agenda', said David Petrasek, Senior Director of Amnesty International's Policy and Evaluation Program, who is in Amman to put the organisation's case for re-installing human rights as the top priority for reconstruction.

In the new report addressed to governments and private companies, On whose behalf? Human rights and the economic reconstruction process in Iraq, Amnesty International raises serious concerns that in the scramble for reconstruction projects in Iraq, basic human rights and the participation of Iraqi people have been sidelined. There is a particular concern that the Iraqi economy's overwhelming dependence on oil revenues means that while there is a potential for a self-sustaining future, this must not be to the detriment of Iraqi people's human rights [1].

The report raises concerns about a lack of transparency in the awarding of contracts in the reconstruction process, arguing that the lack of information denies Iraqis their right to participate in making decisions on important issues including the rebuilding of the justice system, policing, health and education.

This lack of inclusion is seriously exacerbated by the fact that it is almost impossible to find out the names of the frequently changing officials who are running government departments. There appears to be no system of regular communication between the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi population.

The report also says that the Development Fund, set up by the UN to hold monies raised from Iraqi oil sales, lacks independence as it is under the complete control of the occupying powers, and the 'independent' body mandated to oversee its expenditures is not accountable at an international level.

Amnesty International has delegates in Iraq who report that this lack of accountability and opportunities for participation in the reconstruction process is taking place in a context where hundreds of thousands of families are struggling to meet the requirements of daily life without salaries or pensions. People are increasingly frustrated and do not know who to turn to with their concerns or complaints.

Amnesty International said:

'The occupying powers must make an explicit commitment to involving Iraqis in decision-making related to reconstruction. Iraqis themselves, ideally through representative institutions, ought to make decisions on rebuilding, on foreign investment, and on the selling of state assets.'

Amnesty International is calling on the occupying powers in Iraq to ensure:

  • human rights remain paramount in the reconstruction process;
  • the involvement of Iraqis in all political and economic decision-making;
  • that there is full transparency in the awarding of reconstruction contracts;
  • in particular, that oil revenues are managed with full accountability and transparency.

Amnesty International is calling on all companies involved in reconstruction in Iraq to commit themselves to:

  • ensuring that large infrastructure projects do not lead to the forced or arbitrary displacement of people (as they did under Saddam Hussein's government);
  • not exacerbate past abuses by purchasing or occupying property that was unlawfully expropriated in the past;
  • ensuring security arrangements do not lead to human rights abuses;
  • not offering bribes;
  • not profiteering;
  • consulting local communities;
  • not discriminating against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights or any religious or ethnic group in their employment practices or provision of services;
  • supporting the rule of law and the establishment of a fair justice system.

Amnesty International concluded:

'There was a good deal of talk from the coalition forces about the human rights of the Iraqi people before the war. If this was genuine, the US and UK should now make clear that projects directed at human rights protection will receive priority attention in the reconstruction process. They should also commit to including information on how disbursements made under the Development Fund further human rights protection in their reports to the Security Council.

'Without some international accountability, there is no assurance that reconstruction efforts will be directed towards the protection of human rights, or at a minimum ensuring that development projects do not end up causing human rights abuses. 'A failure to fully integrate human rights in the process of change would be a betrayal of the people of Iraq.'


  • Iraqi dependence on oil – cash-cow or curse?

  • The Iraqi economy is overwhelmingly dependent on oil.. In 1989, the last full year prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi oil revenues totalled US$14.5 billion and constituted 99 per cent of export earnings. The UN sanctions on Iraq changed this dynamic, and in 1996, oil exports (US$269 million) accounted for only a third of Iraq's exports of US$950 million.

    By 2001, with the effect of the oil-for-food program in full swing, oil exports once again dominated Iraqi exports, accounting for US$15.14 billion out of total exports of US$15.94 billion, revealing a decline in the export earning potential of other industries.

    Iraq's oil reserves have already contributed to human rights abuses. The former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, controlled the industry and allocated and distributed the proceeds. As the state sector was dominant in Iraq's economy, the President was in a position to garner a broad base of support for his government.

    By the early 1980s, a quarter of all those employed in Iraq worked for the state bureaucracy, and a new class of entrepreneurs, contractors and managers of state-owned enterprises reaped much of the benefits from Iraq's oil wealth. This alternate power centre helped the President consolidate his rule, which was increasingly arbitrary and repressive.

    Iraq's proven oil reserves are about 112 billion barrels, giving it the world's second largest known reservoir of oil. Before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq produced about 3 million barrels of oil daily, of which it exported 2.8 million barrels through pipelines via Turkey to the Mediterranean and via Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea. Production then declined because of the damage caused during Operation Desert Storm and the sanctions that followed.

    The sanctions prohibited export of Iraqi oil, until April 1995 when the UN Security Council passed resolution 986 which permitted limited exports of Iraqi crude to finance humanitarian aid and war reparations, the so-called oil-for-food program. Sanctions have now been lifted, and oil exports will resume free of any constraints; the oil-for-food program will end in November 2003.

    Iraq's oil potential is enormous. Of its 74 discovered and evaluated oil fields, only 15 have been developed, according to oil industry analysts. Iraq's western desert is considered to be highly prospective but has yet to be explored.

    However, the perception that Iraq's oil wealth will be enough in the short term to cover its post-conflict needs is misplaced. Even developed and operational oil fields will need a good deal of investment and repair before full production can resume.

    It may take Iraq between 18 months and three years to return to its pre-1990 production level of 3.5 million barrels per day. It will cost an estimated US$5 billion to repair and restore previously used facilities, in addition to an estimated US$3 billion in annual operating expenses.

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