The long-awaited Kuwait Reconstruction Conference started on Monday, bringing together businesses and donors from much of the Middle East and around the world. The Iraqi Government hopes that the attendees to the conference, including 1,850 infrastructure development companies and 60 major business figures from the Arab world and around the globe, can help bolster the Iraqi reconstruction efforts that are expected to cost between $88 Billion to a $100 Billion.
The strong Iraqi presence in the conference in Kuwait highlights how the Government’s agenda for 2018 and beyond will be defined by the efforts to rebuild the cities and communities that have been devastated by ISIS. Nearly every city in Iraq’s north and west, including major cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and, of course, Mosul, have suffered immense damage. Although reconstruction efforts have begun, they have been slow and limited and the patience and goodwill of the Iraqi public is wearing thin. For the Iraqi Government, which is facing the challenge of balancing public pressure against an unstable budget due to low oil prices, the prospect of appealing for foreign investments is a good way to ease some of these pressures.
The Kuwait Reconstruction Conference is expected to raise some $85 Billion. This money alone can help return %70 of public utilities including electricity, water, healthcare and schools, back to full capacity. However, Iraqis competing with a number of other funds including a reconstruction fund for Yemen, a development fund for Mauritania and a Bangladeshi fund to assist Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
While Iraq is likely to obtain significant funds due to its profile and its role in Middle Eastern stability, some donors and investors will likely be turned off by the country’s history of corruption that has often resulted in squandered aid. A government estimate suggests that $450 Billion has been lost to corruption over the past 12 years. $360 Billion of that was during the rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki between 2006 and 2014. So far, the Iraqi Commission of Integrity only managed to recover $800 Million of these lost funds.
Combating corruption is another major challenge Iraq faces after ISIS. Failing to rebuild the country as a result of funds lost to corruption can seriously hamper the prospects of lasting peace in the country.