Iraq Banks On Private Sector for Post-Isis Reconstruction
Months after declaring victory over Islamic State (ISIS), war-battered Iraq hopes to attract billions of dollars from private investors as well as donors to fund its reconstruction.
Baghdad is looking to drum up funds at a reconstruction conference in neighboring Kuwait from February 12 to 14 after announcing the defeat of the Islamic State group at the end of last year.
The country is still reeling from the rise of ISIS and the punishing fight back it took to crush the militants, with swathes of its territory in ruins and millions of people displaced.
Authorities in the resource-rich nation say there has been a heavy toll on oil, electricity and manufacturing infrastructure, as well as basic services such as water and sanitation.
Iraq needs to raise $100 billion to rebuild, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said, after the fight against ISIS and decades of sanctions and war.
"It's a huge amount of money. We know we cannot provide it through our own budget," he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.
"That's why we now resorted to investment," he said.
Iraq sits on some of the world's largest crude reserves, which Baghdad puts at 153 billion barrels, but the war against ISIS and a slump in world prices have diminished its oil revenues.
- 'Huge destruction' -
The Kuwait conference's second day will be devoted to the private sector's role in rebuilding Iraq, with more than 2,000 companies and businessmen due to attend, according to the Gulf country.
International organizations are to speak on the first day, while attending donor countries are expected to make announcements on the third.
The U.S. State Department has said that rather than "direct contributions", Washington has "focused on the private sector. It has teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to organize a delegation of over 150 American companies to travel to Kuwait" for the conference.
Iraq -- the second largest producer within OPEC after Saudi Arabia -- has already called for help from investors worldwide, even as it seeks to ramp up output from its largely untapped reserves.
Kuwait is setting aside its past differences with Iraq to host the summit.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait after accusing its neighbor of "stealing" Iraqi oil from a field straddling the border.
That sparked the first Gulf War, which ended after a U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi forces from the emirate.
Iraqis have since weathered international sanctions, a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the battle against ISIS.
Today, some 2.6 million people remain displaced across the country, the International Organization for Migration has said.
Satellite imagery shows some 26,000 houses are destroyed or seriously damaged, including more than 17,000 in the jihadists' former bastion of Mosul.
"There is huge destruction and a huge need to mobilize support," said Erfan Ali, Iraq representative of the UN Human Settlements Programme.
- Education, education -
Ali said there are big hopes the private sector will play a major role in rebuilding, offering "innovative solutions" to tackle the country's problems.
Attracting investors will be no easy task in a country ranked as the world's tenth most corrupt in Transparency International's 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.
But Ali said companies and businessmen will have access to a "reconstruction data platform to ensure accountability and transparency".
Peter Hawkins, representative for the UN children's fund in Iraq, says reconstruction will be a mammoth task -- not just in Mosul, retaken from ISIS last July after several months of fighting, but also elsewhere.
Though much of the battle against ISIS took place in northern Iraq, its southern provinces have also suffered from government budget cuts during the conflict.
Overstretched schools in the south teach children in two or three shifts, the UNICEF official said.
Iraq -- where nearly a quarter of the population survive on less than $2 a day -- needs "major investment in health, education, social warfare" and water resources, he said.
Above all, educating young Iraqis is a chief concern, Hawkins said.
"If we do not start to invest in children's education today, this generation will be lost and will not be able to contribute to the economy and the security of Iraq when they grow up."