16 Mar 2019

Group Grievances and Military Expenditures Raise Together in Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq

Iraqi governments spent more than (58.2) billion USD as military expenditures (ME) from 2007 till 2017, according to World Bank Group’s data. 

The issue is not to say that this ME is too much compared to government expenditures in other sectors like education and health; it was actually not spent in a way that could guarantee the country’s stability. Therefore, as the ME raised the level of group-grievances increased. 

The data sets of Fund for Pease’s Fragile States Index‪ (FSI) and the World Bank Group simply show that the country is facing challenges that can’t be addressed only by increasing ME. The risen defense spending just added more grievances to Iraqi people instead of reducing it.

Mohammed Hussein
Mohammed Hussein

is policy director and political-economy analyst at ICPAR. He holds a master’s degree in specialized economic analysis: Economics of Public Policy, from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.

It might not be easy to find out whether the risen ME caused more instability, or it is just the other way around since there is a strong relation between the both; however, it is clear that lack of adequate governance and failed political elites generated the both; consequently, they contributed to the risen group-grievance since the spending was mostly used in internal conflicts.

‪The Iraq’s internal conflicts, since early 1960s, have been outcomes of failed political elites and authoritarian regimes. They were results of political miscalculations, bad resource management, and authoritarian regimes. Autocrats were consolidating their power on behalf of a certain group and simply suppressing other groups of Iraq’s diverse communities; therefore, the country’s ethnic, religious, and political groups were manipulated and pushed to support political parties and leaders that were fighting, competing, and struggling over power, natural resources, and territories. The trend gradually fractionalized Iraqi society in which every group wanted to maximize their benefits at expense of the others.

‪The same competing political elites invited regional and international powers to intervene in Iraq’s internal affairs. The interventions have exacerbated the situation and fueled more internal conflicts. Meanwhile, the Iraqi governments were used as a tool to consolidate one group’s influence and disadvantage the rest. Nobody, prior to 2014, pursued an inclusive national agenda to unify the competing groups and contain the accumulated group grievances within all Iraqi communities; Kurd, Shia, Arab Sunni, Yazidi, Christians, and other social and political communities.

‪Besides, Iraq is not an odd example in the region. Actually, it is part of a tough regional environment, where some neighbors like Iran and Turkey have higher group-grievance scores. Looking at the same FSI data in 2018, we can see how the grievance scores are high among the most diverse countries.

‪Besides, Iraqi ethno-nationalist and sectarian autocrats triggered reactions within the minorities’ ‌leaders who struggled to reverse the central governments’ repression. State-sponsored violence created similar but unequal reactions within oppressed groups. The circle of violence basically fueled several revolutions and rebel armed conflicts, from Kurdish revolutions and Iraqi Communist Party’s armed struggles till the resistance of Islamic Dawa Party and The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which all stood against Saddam Hussein Regime.

‪After the 2003 regime change, the same circle of violence turned up again but with new players like Nuri Al-Maliki‌’s government and several political parties and figures of Arab Sunni community. This circle of violence reached its peak with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) in mid 2014.

Internal conflict drives more group grievance

‪According to the FSI data, Iraq’s group grievance scores raised as internal conflicts increased and lowered as the conflicts decreased. The group grievance scores measures divisions between components of a certain society; especially those who are divided based on social or political allegiances. It also measures how the divisions affect their access to public services, common resources, and inclusion in political processes.

‪Aggrieved groups may use their historical background and go back to past injustices that could influence their relations with other communities. Certain communities might feel aggrieved when their self-determination or political independence have been denied. The FSI indicators capture when and where a certain group is discriminated by state institutions or a politically dominant group.

‪The figures show how years with intense internal conflicts (2007, 2013, 2014, 2015) dramatically raised group grievance scores in Iraq. Whenever state security forces launched campaigns against Al-Qaida linked groups in 2007 and ISIS between 2014 and 2016, the grievance scores raised. Meanwhile, as political and security situations improved the grievance scores decreased. For instance, in 2011 the score is 9, which is the lowest level over the 13 years.

‪If we take the number of the people who got killed due to wars and military conflicts as a proxy to measure the frequency of armed conflicts in Iraq, we can see how the group grievance scores raised as the number of armed conflicts-related deaths raised.

‪The World Bank data contains a variable “battle-related deaths” that counts people who got killed in armed conflicts, bombardments of military units, cities, and villages. The variable, could be a good proxy to measure the level of instability over the period. Comparing this variable with the FSI‌s group grievance scores, we can see how the both numbers rise and fall almost together.

‪The figures show how the grievance scores raised as internal conflicts escalated.

‪The Increasing Military Expenditure Did Not Help

‪Not surprisingly, the portion of public budget Iraqi government has allocated to military expenditure raised during the years with intense internal conflicts. The percentage of national budget allocated to military expenditure raised from (3.5%) in 2005 to its peak (12.6%) in 2015. This money was raised at expense of other key sectors like education, health, electricity, and social care. Economically speaking, the money is wasted since it was not used in any productive economic activities or any project that could drive the country towards a sustainable development and growth.

‪The money was spent in fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda linked groups (out of necessity), but the spending would not be necessary if there were no previous ME for suppressing some Arab Sunni political figures and groups that brought ISIS war. It was basically spent to create some problems and then resolve the problems. Therefore, the Iraq’s defense capacity was used and ME was spent to kill and displace Iraqi people in addition to destroy hundreds of cities, towns, and villages.

‪Comparing the trend of the grievance-scores fluctuation with Iraq’s ME over the period, we can see how the increasing ME did not decrease the level of communities grievances in Iraq. Contrary, after 2011 (when the US army withdrew in the country) the volume of ME and grievance-scores raised and lowered together.

‪The figures, again, show that Iraq’s instability can’t be addressed only by 

‪military and security approaches.

Improving Economy Did Not Reduce Group Grievances

‪Iraq’s economic indicators between 2006 and 2017 show that the group grievance scores were not affected by the country’s improved economic growth. No economic recession or crisis contributed to it. Despite oil price fluctuation and constant uncertainties in the country, Iraq’s per capita growth national income (GNI) elevated steadily over the period, from ($10,890) in 2006 to ($16,530) in 2017. This money was supposed to help mitigate the communities grievances. Usually, developed states by various institutions and programs can buffer group grievances. In the Iraqi context, this is not the case.

‪All these indicators show that solutions of Iraq’sresilient conflicts are pursuing an inclusive national agenda that could be fair to Iraqis as individuals, not members of certain religious sects, ethnicities, and groups. The country needs an adequate governance that can create national allegiance for Iraqi individuals instead of antagonizing its communities based on their local identities or group interests. The risen grievance scores need political solutions rather than security and military approaches.

Stronger and Better State Institutions

‪These indicators should not be read in a way that questions the necessity of Iraqi security forces campaigns against the ISIS and Al-Qaeda linked groups. Iraq can’t survive as a state unless it has strong security forces to keep order and monopolize a legitimate use of force to guarantee its citizens safety. The indicators just tell that Iraqi communities feel unsafe and unhappy whenever internal conflicts increased. Therefore, solutions should be found for political and economic roots of the conflicts.

‪Parallel to national inclusive policies, having well trained and disciplined army and security forces are quite necessary to keep Iraq as a functional state; Iraq needs a strong and democratic state in order to survive in its unfriendly and instable geopolitics.

‪Given the country’s geopolitics, an adequate defense budget is always needed. The country basically needs to take its side and responsibility in the integrated regional security. However, the problem lies behind polices and agendas that embroiled Iraq to this level of fragility and fractionalization, which has always been a key factor for a wider instability in the whole region.

‪Iraqi federal government has to fairly allocate its resources and improve its performance to maximize public services on daily bases. It has to improve its governing capacity and launch reform policies in multiple economic, administrative, and political levels in order to improve quality of its governance.

‪The Iraqi federal government and KRG need to focus on the key issues that dragged the country into the club of fragile states. First, they should pursue strong counter corruption policies that could limit the amount of resources within-state mafias and militias use to strengthen themselves and ultimately create more conflicts.

‪Plus, both governments need to focus on an inclusive national agenda that might help resolving their disputes over oil, territories, and resource allocations. Reconstructing the post ISIS-areas is also necessary in order to avoid facing another ISIS.

‪The governments can cooperate in their security arrangements and make sure that they will not let any gap to the ISIS ‌insurgents, especially in the disputed areas. They also need to invest in national security institutions by more capacity building training and technology oriented surveillance systems.

The capacity building plan should go parallel with zero-problem relations with all neighboring countries in addition to regional and global powers. This can’tbe achieved unless avoiding the Iran-US conflicts.

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