Ivor Prickett, The New York Times

Does Iraq have a future?

As of 9 April 2020, Iraq claimed to have 1202 confirmed Covid-19 cases although, critics suspect the number to be much higher. Iraq has implemented semi-lockdown measures; its people are restricted from movement between 18:00h-00:00h and its airports are closed.  The situation is critical, Iraq’s healthcare capacity is very limited and its economy unstable. Iraq will need foreign aid to combat the pandemic, the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 has attracted approximately $400 million in funding, which presumably will be used to help the country. When the virus first struck Iraq, the health minister asked the government for $5 million in emergency funds, which he did not get. “There is no money and we are in a difficult situation” is what the minister Jaafer Sadiq Allawi said. Over the last decades, Iraq’s economy has been influenced tremendously by external factors such as military conflicts. Moreover, 90% of state revenues come from oil, whose prices have plummeted because of Saudi Arabia and Russia’s conflict. Hence, with its economy on lockdown, decreasing revenue from oil and only $60 billion in cash reserves, Iraq is in big trouble. Despite the economy being relatively isolated, and having a very limited private sector, higher government spending will be needed. When Iraq has run out of its cash reserves, which is expected to be by the end of the year, they will have to turn to the IMF for a loan, which may not be forthcoming. This will possibly result in an even more problematic situation for Iraq’s economy.

Apart from its economic issues, Iraq has other major factors that make getting through this pandemic more difficult, such as its lack in leadership. Ever since its prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, resigned in November, there has not been an effective government. Conflicts with Shia parties and Iran have prevented new leaders from taking the reins. Meanwhile, other conflicts in the region continue on; the (proxy) fight between the United States and Iran has posed a major complication for years and has yet to come to an end. President Trump appealed that Iran will pay a “heavy price” if they conduct more “sneak attacks” after multiple Iraqi-American bases had been struck by attacks from rebels. Furthermore, after the death of Qassem Suleimani and his ally Abu Mahdi al-Muhanids in early January, American troops have mostly been focusing on protecting themselves. This resulted in a vacuum that is being exploited by the Islamic State, which has been reemerging on Iraqi territory. In a recent issue of their magazine, “Al-Naba,” Isis urged its people to be more offensive, as people are distracted by the Coronavirus. Western countries will not be eager to enter a conflict during the pandemic, therefore granting ISIS free play.

Iraqi politics is as polarized as ever; possibly resulting in the Kurds seeking independence as well as Sunni leaders discussing their own state. It is difficult for the people of Iraq to remain positive, finds too, Riyadh al-Shihan, a military veteran: “These are the worst days we have lived through in Iraq. I lived through the Iraq-Iran war, the uprising, Saddam Hussein, but these days are worse.” The 7 million employees and pensioners are worried about their future, and sceptical towards their government. With the economy plunging, a health system under immense pressure and never-ending conflicts preventing new leaders from emerging, Iraq faces a colossal challenge. The coming months will be crucial for the future of Iraq, the question is, however, whether there will be one.