"A Vision for Iraq": Prime Minister Abadi's Remarks at the World Economic Forum

A Vision for Iraq
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi
World Economic Forum, Davos, January 23, 2015

I am honored to be here at the World Economic Forum. These meetings offer opportunities for leaders from government, business, academia and civil society to address our international challenges in an atmosphere of inclusiveness and trust.

In that spirit, I am pleased to be here today with so many of my friends and fellow leaders from neighboring nations. Since I became Prime Minister of Iraq in September, I have had the opportunity to meet with each of you, and now I appreciate this occasion to meet our counterparts from around the world.

In Iraq, armed conflict threatens our families, our communities and everything we hold dear. As recent events make clear, terrorism imperils all the peoples of the world, whatever our region or religion.

The Iraqi people are on the frontlines of the fight against the best-funded, best-equipped and best-organized terrorists on earth.

Today, I have been asked to present “A Vision for Iraq.” My vision includes a coordinated military, political and economic strategy to defeat Daesh. And I also envision an international effort to rebuild Iraq and reconcile our region, so that, out of our own struggle and suffering, we can set an example for triumphing over terrorism with economic development and social inclusion.

For Iraq, this is the time to ask hard questions and make difficult decisions, not only to defeat Daesh but also to build a unified country, with a functioning democracy that upholds the rule of law, a streamlined government, decentralized decision-making, and a prosperous economy that offers opportunities for all our people.

As Prime Minister, I am pursuing a strategy of inter-dependence. Instead of state domination with government commanding the economy and Baghdad dominating the government, the public and private sectors – and the central government and the provinces – will work together in partnership.

For all our challenges, Iraq still brings great strengths to building our future. Our economic fundamentals are strong – one of the world’s largest reserves of oil, an educated population, and rapid growth before the onset of Daesh. Once our current security challenges are overcome, we will fulfill our potential as a business and investment partner.

Iraq is an ancient civilization but a young democracy. Since 2003, Iraq has had a succession of free elections. Last year, in the midst of extremist violence, we managed a peaceful political transition in which elected leaders stepped down to make way for new leadership.

Over little more than 100 days, our new government has begun to restructure and reform our armed forces, build better relations with the Kurdistan Region, work with local tribes to defeat Daesh, reform and decentralize the central government, advance social welfare and individual freedoms, and promote economic reform and development. We have strengthened relations with our neighbors and coordinated our counter-attack against Daesh with our Coalition allies.

Only six months ago Daesh was threatening Baghdad, and our future was uncertain. Today, with the support of our neighbors and a coalition of partners, the world has rallied to Iraq, Daesh’s momentum has been halted, and Iraqis are retaking our country.

Despite our economic challenges, the Iraqi people feel an extreme sense of urgency -- and the Government of Iraq feels an extreme sense of responsibility -- to liberate every inch of our territory and every segment of our citizenry from Daesh.

As I said yesterday at a security conference in London, when we ask the world community for more support or faster assistance, our determination does not reflect disappointment with the coalition of countries supporting Iraq but rather the reality that human lives are at stake and we must act as rapidly and as resolutely as we can.

I know that the Iraqi people who are now occupied by Daesh must take the lead in liberating themselves, and our government is doing our part to make this possible.

When our new government took office in September, we promised to pursue national reconciliation, military and governmental reform, economic and social reconstruction, and regional outreach. We are moving forward on every front.

We are also restoring relationships with the Sunni tribes that are based in areas now dominated by Daesh. I have met personally with representatives from the provinces of Anbar, Salahuddin and Mosul, reinforcing air support, increasing arms supplies, and providing for food deliveries. Now many of these tribes are fighting alongside – and not against – the Iraqi Security Forces.

We will never win on the battlefront if we are crippled by corruption on the home-front. We are fighting corruption and incompetence in civil and military institutions. We have removed about two dozen generals, as well as 24 senior officers of the Ministry of Interior.

Our government will spare no effort to ensure that there will be no more “ghost soldiers”on the payroll, no more corrupt commanding officers, no more battalions fleeing from the battlefields, and no more corrupt civilians enriching themselves while our soldiers sacrifice their lives and limbs.

In order to reinforce the rule of law and protect personal freedoms, I have issued an executive order to speed up the release of detainees who have not been charged and established a central registry of those who have been incarcerated. I have met with Iraqi journalists and dropped all pending lawsuits against journalists on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office.

And, because our national defense must build up respect for the rule of law, we are bringing all armed groups under state control.

When much of our army collapsed last summer, tens of thousands of volunteers rose to defend their country. Most have fought heroically against Daesh -- and many have sacrificed their lives. Some, however, have committed abuses against Iraqi citizens, and I have made clear that this is not tolerated.

In recent weeks, we have detained kidnapping rings, and other criminal networks operating under the guise of volunteer forces. These efforts will continue. The National Guard law will also offer an appropriate legal framework for the brave volunteers to continue to defend our country.

The Iraqi people and their government are doing our part on the battlefield and on the home-front. But we cannot and must not meet our challenges alone.

We need the international Coalition to provide more armaments, conduct more airstrikes and continue training our forces. We need our neighbors and allies to help stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. And we need the international community, through its financial institutions, to freeze the funding of Daesh.

While battling terrorism, our government is also striving to stabilize our society by diversifying our economy, decentralizing decision-making, controlling public spending, combating corruption, encouraging foreign investment and restoring our infrastructure.

With our reliance on oil revenues for 85 percent of our budget and the plunge in oil prices, our government has had to take a new look at our fiscal policies and our economic prospects.

First, we have been forced to turn to new sources of revenue, including taxes. We are re-emphasizing the need for customers to pay for basic services such as electricity, water and roads through our respective ministries.

Second, we have also had to explore alternative industries to grow the economy, build businesses, generate jobs and raise revenues. Once we were one of the most diversified economies in OPEC, and we will build a diverse economy again. That is why we are investing in agriculture, petrochemicals and other industries.

Third, our government has had to become more efficient. Our government has tried to cut our budget through spending reductions and economic reforms.

Leading by example, in December, our Council of Ministers agreed to slash its salaries by 50 percent.

With 3.9 million government employees over 2 million state pensioners, we have to cut back. For that reason, we are revising our pension system, so that it can support our retirees while being sustainable for our government.

Fourth, we are fighting fraud and corruption not only in the military but in the civil government. When our brave fighters are sacrificing their lives, the least we can ask is that those who have profited at public expense give up their ill-gotten gains.

Fifth, we are decentralizing government, bringing decision-making and the provision of public services to the local level, where the people and their public officials best understand what must be done and how to do it.

By making government leaner, nimbler and more muscular, we are encouraging economic growth, job creation and foreign investment.

With more than a half a million high school and university graduates entering the job market every year – and unemployment already at 11 percent among the entire population and 18 percent among young people – we have to grow our economy and generate jobs.

This means encouraging foreign and domestic investment, expanding and creating large and small businesses, and ensuring that government supports, not stifles, the private economy.

We are moving from a state-dominated system to a more vibrant mixed economy. We are privatizing key sectors, exploring public-private partnerships, and entering more joint ventures with international companies.

Major oil companies, manufacturers, and banks are now investing in Iraq and expanding their operations in our country. Despite the security situation, our Gross Domestic Product is still growing, our productivity is still increasing, and our international trade is still expanding and will continue to improve as relations are normalized with all our neighbors.

But, first, after we defeat Daesh, we must rebuild the territories that we will liberate from the terrorists and relieve the suffering of the civilian populations who have been held hostage by these barbarians. We have developed what we call a “whole of government” strategy to restore the infrastructure and repair the social fabric. In this great endeavor, we will need help from our region and the international community.

While cutting our overall budget, our government has set aside 500 billion dinars – about 440 million dollars – to rebuild the devastation caused by Daesh’s destructive violence. But, with oil revenues plunging, two million internally displaced persons, and the costs of fighting the most formidable terrorists on Earth, we cannot pay the price alone.

I have proposed an internationally financed Reconstruction Fund to rebuild Iraq and serve as a model for assisting our neighbors who are also shouldering the human and economic costs of civil war, terrorist attacks, and the displacement of millions of men, women and children. We have had useful meetings with our friends and neighbors in the Gulf States and with the World Bank. And we are asking our Coalition allies and the international business and financial community to help.

Therefore, I propose an ongoing conversation among the governmental, religious, economic and civil society leaders in the Middle East to forge a common vision and course of action. This conversation can begin with a conference. And I suggest Baghdad because this city represents so much of our region’s history and our hopes.

From resisting Daesh to rebuilding Iraq and reconciling our region, the costs of action will be high. But the costs of inaction will be infinitely higher.

Iraq is doing our part in the struggle against violent extremism. For the sake of the world we love and the future we share, we ask all of the international community to do the same.

Thank you all for everything we will do together.

To read Prime Minister Al-Abadi's remarks in Arabic, click here.