Executive Summary: The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq

Report Middle East

Executive Summary: The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq

September 25, 2002 4 min read Download Report
Gerald O'Driscoll

As the Bush Administration and Iraqi opposition groups plan the future of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq without its menacing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), economic issues loom large. Iraq's economy has been grossly mismanaged, and its people largely repressed, for 40 years. Iraq desperately needs an alternative to the failed policies of its dictator. Sound economics are needed to help the Iraqi people rebuild their lives and their country after two decades of wars and four decades of repression under the current regime.

Saddam's regime has succeeded in bankrupting the country even though it boasts the world's second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. The oil sector provides more than 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and 95 percent of its hard currency earnings. Yet GDP for 2001, at the market exchange rate, is estimated to be only about one-third its level in 1989. Iraq also is hobbled by its $140 billion foreign debt. This devastation was wrought by such policies as the nationalization of the country's chief export commodity, oil; extensive central planning of industry and trade; the 1982-1988 war against Iran; and the invasion of Kuwait, which precipitated the 1991 Gulf War.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, oil smuggling and illegal surcharges of 25 cents to 50 cents on a barrel of legal oil are providing the funds to bolster Saddam's regime. Saddam's unaccounted revenues are at least $6.6 billion--money that he has been free to spend to develop WMD and support terrorism in spite of economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War to force him to give up his WMD. And Saddam still stubbornly refuses to meet the terms for lifting the economic sanctions that the United Nations has imposed on his regime.

The road to economic prosperity in Iraq will not be easily paved, but the Bush Administration can help the new Iraqi government achieve fundamental structural reform with massive, orderly, and transparent privatization of various sectors of the economy, including the oil industry. The United States should offer its guidance on establishing sound economic and trade policies to stimulate growth and recovery.

Economic Reforms for a Post-Saddam Iraq
After Saddam's brutal and repressive regime is ended, the new government established by the people of Iraq should represent all the major sub-national groups--the Shiite Arabs, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds. The best model is a federal system that includes the various factions. To succeed, Iraqi opposition leaders will need a political commitment from the United States and other international organizations that they will furnish the necessary expertise and technical assistance. To gain that commitment, Iraq will need to abandon statist policies of the past and become fully committed to the principles of a market economy.

Privatization efforts in other countries demonstrate that privately held infrastructure, oil, and oil service companies generate greater efficiencies, improved production, and higher revenues than do centrally planned and state-owned industries. The same can be achieved in Iraq, whose oil industry cannot thrive without access to global capital markets.

In particular, the Administration should work with opposition leaders in Iraq to convince them now that a future Iraqi federal government must develop mechanisms for privatizing these industries and taxing oil sales, and for sharing the proceeds equitably with the three major ethnic regions--the Shiite Arabs in the South, the Kurds in the North, and the Sunni Arabs in the central region.

The Bush Administration, its allies, and international organizations should prepare, encourage, and support the future leaders of a post-Saddam Iraqi government to develop a comprehensive economic reform package. Specifically, a new federal Iraqi government must take steps to:

  • Create a modern legal environment that recognizes property rights and is conducive to privatization;
  • Educate and prepare the people of Iraq for structural economic reform and privatization through a public information campaign;
  • Hire Iraqi expatriates as well as other Western-educated Arabic speakers with financial, legal, and business backgrounds to fill key government positions on economic reform and privatization;
  • Deregulate prices internally, including in the utilities and energy sector;
  • Prepare state assets, including industries, utilities, transportation, ports and airports, pipelines, and the energy sector, for privatization;
  • Keep the budget balanced and inflation, taxes, and tariffs low; and
  • Liberalize and expand trade, and launch an effort for Iraq to join the World Trade Organization.

Economic growth will be an important contribution to the stabilization of Iraq, allowing the United States and other forces stationed there to depart after assuring that Iraq's WMD threat and repressive regime have ended. Structural reform and comprehensive privatization is a winning strategy for the people of Iraq, its future government, the region, and the United States.

Such a strategy will prove beneficial for the industrial world, the countries of the Middle East, and the developing world. Iraq's return to the global markets would allow a more abundant and stable energy supply and a greater revenue flow for the Iraqi economy, foster a higher living standard for the Iraqi people, and provide numerous business opportunities for the region and the world. If successful, Iraq's privatizations of its oil sector, refining capacity, and pipeline infrastructure could serve as a model for privatizations by other OPEC members, thereby weakening the cartel's domination of the energy markets.

Dr. Ariel Cohenis Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Dr. Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Jr., is Director of the Center for International Trade and Economics, at The Heritage Foundation.


Gerald O'Driscoll