It is months after the last missile landed on Baghdad, but last week landed another bomb: the bill for Iraq’s rebuilding. The World Bank has estimated this figure at $55 billion. Unlike some of the optimistic estimates that were thrown around earlier this year, that figure is probably realistic.
On Monday Europe’s Foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss Europe’s contribution to the reconstruction effort. Only one country, the United Kingdom – which already has its hands tied down in Iraq – pledged any assistance, offering 375 million euros. Other countries chose instead to sit on their hands: Germany and Sweden refused any additional help, and France remained silent. Smaller countries pointed out that the EU had already committed 0.2 billion euros – therefore no additional money would be forthcoming. Yet that is only a tiny fraction of the $55 billion that will eventually be required.
American commentators such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times might see in this a sign of cynical ‘old Europe’. And, yes, there is an element of cynicism involved. As one European diplomat recently remarked: “Those who broke Iraq are going to have to put it back together.”
But on the contrary it is the cynicism of the present US administration that is at the heart of the problem. European countries cannot be expected to contribute to a reconstruction process in which contracts were almost exclusively awarded to American companies – the very companies who will be bankrolling the present administration’s re-election campaign. It is understandable that deals were awarded to US firms, when it was assumed that their pockets would be lined by the US taxpayer and Iraq’s abundant oil exports. But now the latter have not materialized, it does not fall upon us to take their place.
Furthermore, the point stands that Europe’s aid money would be far better spent elsewhere. Afghanistan, for example, has been almost forgotten in the last year. Yet unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has no oil revenues to fuel its reconstruction efforts, and remains a seed-bed for opium cultivation, human rights abuse and Islamic discontent.
For it is still Afghanistan, and not Iraq, as Bush recently claimed, that is the ‘central front’ in the war against terror. That is why our first objective must remain the rebuilding of the Afghan government, the revitalization of their economy and the extension of UN forces around the whole of the country. The German government’s announcement today to send 450 troops to the Northern region of Kunduz is clearly a step in the right direction, and we will undoubtedly need to go much further.
Europe remains the world’s biggest aid provider: but the bill for Iraq reconstruction is one bomb that won’t be landing on our doorstep.