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Take grass roots approach to reconstructing Iraq, say York experts

Posted on 9 April 2003

The reconstruction of Iraq must focus on the expertise and enthusiasm of Iraqi people rather than assuming a top-down authoritarian approach, according to post-war reconstruction experts at the University of York.

Sultan Barakat and Gareth Wardell of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit at the University, urge the harnessing of the capabilities, knowledge and expertise of the Iraqi population. Their involvement, they argue, will help to kick-start the economy, which has stalled as a result of conflict and more than a decade of international sanctions.

"Lessons learnt from all over the world in the last 20 years show that running reconstruction activities like a military campaign - from the top down - are expensive, unsustainable and ineffective," says Dr Barakat.

"The sort of approach to development which we read about at present, where the US - or perhaps even the UN - imposes systems and procedures from the top which have been planned in a vacuum in Washington, are unlikely to work."

The PRDU has experience in rebuilding war-torn communities and countries affected by war and natural disaster all over the world. In recent months, they have been involved in providing training for senior civil servants and members of the new Afghan government. They also have extensive experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Colombia, Indonesia (Aceh), Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Palestine, the Philippines (Mindano), Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland), Sri Lanka, Turkey, UAE, Uganda, Vietnam and Yemen.

Barakat and Wardell have identified key priorities for the aftermath of the conflict. They are:

  • To establish security, effective policing and the rule of law. This will be particularly important for avoiding reprisals and summary justice. The US/UK must accept responsibility for policing and the provision of initial security in the inevitable chaos that will be created by the post-war power vacuum.
  • To lift the sanctions embargo. Iraq is a potentially wealthy nation with large oil reserves, agricultural wealth, a highly-educated workforce, significant high-tech industries and a highly developed infrastructure. Lifting sanctions will help Iraq to achieve its potential.
  • To facilitate the provision of short-term, targeted humanitarian assistance.
  • To rebuild Iraqi (and general Arab) trust in the international community. "Visible acts of confidence building, such as prisoner exchanges, acts of commemoration and so on are important," says Sultan Barakat. "Such trust building activities need to pay attention to Iraqi culture and be even-handed. We also need to remember that immediate trust in a former adversary is not necessarily to be expected, so there could be a role for a third-party guarantor."

Shortcomings in specific areas of current plans for post-war Iraq have also been identified by Barakat and Wardell. They are:

  • The lack of an identified Iraqi Government in Exile to fill the power vacuum.
  • That US/UK forces are inadequately prepared to handle the security needs of the civilian society in addition to their combat duties. They will need to work with local police forces in order to restore law and order and prevent wide-spread looting.
  • There has been a lack of coordination with the UN and lack of plans for fostering Iraqi participation in the future governance of their country.
  • In terms of the economic and social well-being of the Iraqi people, there has been no discussion of debt-restructuring, delays in issuing licences to humanitarian agencies and little planning on the management of Iraqi oil revenues by Iraqis.

"It is vital that the UK and the US demonstrate commitment and integrity to their stated aim of building a strong, stable and democratic Iraq," says Gareth Wardell. "What we need to see now - and we haven't seen yet - is a commitment to grass-roots approaches which strengthen and build on the capacities of Iraqi civil society. This, after all, will be the essential foundation for a functioning democracy."

Notes to editors:

  • The Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit specialises in the research, consultancy and training of professionals in issues of management and planning of reconstruction after war, humanitarian intervention in complex emergencies, and peacebuilding.
  • Sultan Barakat is the Director of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, founded at the University of York in 1992. He has experience in development planning and in conducting in-country strategy and training workshops, with a number of publications in the field of refugee shelter, humanitarian assistance policy and impact, NGO development and peace building strategies, settlement planning, rehabilitation and conservation of urban areas, post-war reconstruction and development, disaster mitigation, social and economic rebuilding of war-torn societies.
  • Gareth Wardell is Research Fellow in the PRDU. He came to the PRDU in mid-2000, following over 14 years experience working in field-based, senior-management positions in aid and development agencies in Asia. He was based in Kabul, Afghanistan, from 1993-96 during the height of the Afghan Civil War.
  • The PRDU's one-year MA in Post-war Recovery Studies provides accessible, professionally relevant multi-disciplinary education, specifically developed to cover these areas of concern.
  • Graduates of the course include Haneef Atmar, Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Afghanistan's new government, and Dr Ben Hoffman, a Director of the Carter Centre in Atlanta Georgia.
  • The PRDU is part of the Department of Politics, which has a research rating of 5 and a teaching quality score of 24 out of 24.
  • PRDU website is available at
  • PRDU experts also led a Cabinet seminar in Kabul on the development of the Afghan public administration

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153