COLUMN: Poverty and Iraq

Posted April 30 8:00 p.m.

by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

The war has ended and “The New Iraq” is emblazoned on every headline. But this “New Iraq” should represent more to us than just simply the rebuilding of the one nation. Now that we have fought our first pre-emptive war, let us give our first pre-emptive recovery program to the world.

In so doing we will begin to eliminate the poverty that breeds the terror which creates regimes like that of the now fallen Saddam Hussein. Iraq has fallen into the control of the American army, a fact that cannot be disputed and will not be altered. Reconstruction begins now under the auspices of the White House. Plans for rebuilding a dead economy and reviving a social order are to be made. And much talk has been had over the role of oil in post-war Iraq and the possibility that the Iraq’s reservoirs will be able to contribute to this reconstruction effort, perhaps even cover it.

The key to rebuilding Iraq now is through the eradication of poverty. Poverty among the masses is a tool of social, political and economic control by a dictatorial power. Poverty breeds death. Poverty is often a hotbed for radicalism. Poverty creates hatreds, prejudices and anxieties. Distributed wealth has proven to foster community interest and democratic participation.

The poverty in Iraq is a story not uncommon in the international community. An example of this type of poverty can be found in any part of the world. Take, for example, Columbia in Latin America, Algeria in Africa or Kazakhstan, a part of the former Soviet Union. All four countries have infant mortality rates ranging between 23 to 57 deaths per thousand births, quite larger then the U.S. number of only 6.69 deaths. The countries share life expectancy that reach only 70, while the average American lives to be nearly 78. Compared to the United States GDP of $10.082 trillion last year, Iraq totaled only $59 billion, Kazakhstan $98.1 billion, Algeria $177 billion and Columbia at $255 billion. These countries maintain unemployment rates that exceeds 10 percent, while American has only 5 percent. But the most important statistics is the percentage of the population below the poverty line.

While 13 percent of Americans do live below the poverty line, 23 percent of Algerians, 26 percent Kazakhstanis and over 50 percent of Colombians live below the poverty line of their respective countries.
The link between these three nations is the debt that impoverishes them. Kazakhstan’s debt has reached $11.6 billion, Algeria has reached $24.7 billion and Columbia, $39 billion. It is these debts that greatly contribute to the poverty and the circumstances that accompany it.

So the question that presents itself, is it possible that Saddam Hussein was largely a creation of the circumstances facing his country? If so, countries facing the same circumstances may seem insignificant now, but what of the future? Will we fight pre-emptive wars until there is no one left to accuse of plotting against us? Or would it seem more sensible to pre-emptively help these countries rather then pre-emptively stike them.

The point is, perhaps we should revisit the issue of the world debt so that we avoid creating Iraqi-like circumstances around the world. Algeria, Columbia and Kazakhstan have accepted international loans and have be at times under the whim and fancy of World Bank or International Monetary Fund reformism or criticism. Jubilee 2000 is an organization that supports dropping the debt. They believe the debt is unjust when high levels of human need go unmet and a state is unable to provide for basic sustainable development and are forced into environmental degradation. They believe much of the debt has been repaid and, today’s debt is merely the interest that resulted from skyrocketing rates. It is their opinion that it now should be the responsibility of creditor and debtor to handle these massive sums, which really resulted from modern colonialist endeavor conducted at the expense of these impoverished nations. It certainty seems as if this method of poverty alleviation would be most simple, least costly and would have dramatic results.

If America doesn’t want to drop the debt or worry about the countries who have them, then the government should alleviate poverty in the name of the War on Terrorism. Terrorism is not a Middle Eastern phenomenon. In fact the third link between Algeria, Columbia and Kazakhstan is the terrorism or fanaticism that is prevalent within their national borders. The Algerian FLN, the Columbian FARC and ELN, and the wide variety of Muslim fundamentalist criminals who “hide-out” in Kazakhstan may not serve as an international threat now, nor may they ever, but it is crucial to cure the problems that create such radicalism so to avoid a later day explosion like that of al Qaeda or even Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.

America is in a unique position, not to be the policeman of the world, but to be its pillar of strength. It’s time now to teach success, not to kill for it. Much like Iraq, Columbia, Algeria and Kazakhstan, are also oil producing countries. It is my opinion that we shouldn’t stop with Iraq if will really crave stability. An interdependent global community requires the stability of all it actors, not just a few. So let us take the lessons we learn in Iraq and look beyond the future of the Iraqis, and into the future of mankind.

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