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Foreign Policy

Iraq's future isn’t oil, however sustainable electrical energy

Iraq is located in one of the largest oil reserves in the world, making it an important regional and international actor. As the world economy moves from reliance on fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources, moving away from its dependence on petrodollars has become a top priority in Iraq. During my 18-month tenure as Iraqi electricity minister (October 2018 – May 2020), my colleagues and I took concrete steps to electrify Iraq's vital energy sector to help stabilize the country after the fight against Islam. Show off and guarantee its long-term status as a regional energy center.

Our logic was straightforward: in order to electrify the Iraqi economy, it was imperative to work towards a renaissance of power, a national development policy that aims to reverse the $ 30 billion annual opportunity cost in the energy sector and ultimately a force for to work more stability and economic prosperity. In order to physically generate more electricity, it was also critical to balance the then extraordinarily unfair and unhealthy competition between multinational corporations, which hampered progress and delayed results.

The Iraqi energy sector suffers from a variety of problems. The country's complex bureaucracy often hinders progress by focusing on ineffective short-term micro-technical solutions rather than longer-term macro-institutional reforms. There is also a chronic inability to manage fuel raw materials along with other energy portfolios and the company's broader value chain. The sector is vulnerable to the conflicting agendas of the many political actors in Iraq, which undermine a unified national vision, guide it, anchor it in mismanagement and sink it into corruption.

When we took office in October 2018, we immediately realized that Iraq had received a number of road maps from foreign companies that provided guidelines for the country's electrification. This included proposals from Siemens in Germany, General Electric in the USA, and various others from Chinese and regional companies. These proposals proved valuable, but the country ultimately needed an Iraqi national roadmap.

Working with multilateral organizations and our partners in the region and beyond, we have sought to achieve the goal of an Iraqi roadmap while selecting the best commercial options to complement the national plan. As a result, our national development plan had both national and international dimensions.

An Iraqi roadmap needed to strike a balance between Iraq's immediate energy needs – namely, reliable electricity supplies for all Iraqis – and ambitious energy independence goals to be achieved by 2030. We also planned to make sure the latter is sustainable. by controlling the fuel mix with a focus on gas-to-power and generating 30 percent of the country's electricity supply from renewable resources.

Our efforts had broad potential for transformation in Iraq, both in terms of governance and in terms of what is known as the ease of doing business, a metric used by the World Bank to assess the suitability of an environment for foreign business. We have always taken into account the harmonization and alignment of government dynamics at the federal and state levels. This dynamic fits perfectly with the larger vision of opening traditional government-held sectors to the local private sector and international conglomerates. As part of this process, we have tried to streamline and speed up the privatization of state-owned companies.

Our plan also went directly into Iraqi foreign policy. In order to achieve our goal of electrifying the Iraqi economy and achieving sustainable energy independence, we had to carefully use the country's regional ties to broader connectivity between Iraq and other power sources in the Middle East and to reduce our reliance on Iranian electricity. Our strategy focused on making Iraq an energy hub and dynamic grid-connected supply market for the region. Such an endeavor could make Iraq a regional energy hub for decades and maximize its place in regional geopolitics.

There is also the separate but related dimension of security. Keeping the lights on doesn't just make economic progress possible. It also strengthens the country's national security as it both enhances the state's ability to repel threats and maintains its victory in areas liberated from the Islamic State, which is especially important as it seeks to strengthen its legitimacy among those who Could be vulnerable to the ideology of armed groups.

This dimension is also international. Electricity acts as a buffer against extremism by building and supporting local economies that prevent internal mass displacement and refugee exodus at the regional level. This problem affects the well-being of countries outside Iraq, especially in Europe, and could otherwise lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State.

We have successfully powered the liberated provinces and accelerated the development of major projects in the central and southern provinces. Although many of these projects have been completed, the attention and diligence of future governments must be sustained and expanded. In this equation, it is imperative not only for Iraq to achieve a power renaissance, but also for the international community to support it, especially given the wider international implications.

The stability of Iraq is an essential part of global security and the international community must support efforts in Iraq to achieve energy stability in order to advance regional security. Failure to work towards that goal could jeopardize Iraq's security and thereby reinforce the uncomfortable sense of peace that the region has generally grown into since the defeat of Islamic State. A stable Iraq maintains the world's energy security and thus the global economy.

Achieving long-term energy security in Iraq should not be Iraq's priority alone. It must be part of a broader effort by the international community to ensure peace and stability in the country and beyond. As the world continues to grapple with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and contemplates a future where climate change is commonplace, contributing to Iraq's transformation could be the first step in a broader effort to set the world toward a new future prepare.

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