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Time to focus on building Iraq's human capital

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Positive news is hard to come by these days in Iraq. US intelligence estimates are increasingly pessimistic, for good reason. Daily attacks on international forces and Iraqi civilians are on the rise; kidnappings and assassinations continue unabated; the insurgency has multiple operational areas (fittingly called "no-go" by the military) in which to plan, regroup, and rearm. The kidnapping of foreigners is causing international organizations and NGOs - the few still operational in Iraq - to withdraw international staff and limit programming.

In turn, the lack of security means that contractors cannot safely leave the protected walls of the international zone. Since only $1 billion of the $18.4 billion allocated for Iraq's reconstruction has been spent, the prospects for accelerating that spending do not look good.

Fledgling Iraqi security forces and international forces that are increasingly reluctant to inflict civilian casualties are up against foreign terrorists fueling a homegrown insurgency. They are fighting to disrupt the democratic transition by attacking interim government officials, key infrastructure, and Iraqi civilians.

Further, the post-cold-war lesson of what happens when a dictatorial regime crumbles - latent ethnic nationalism, often encouraged by leaders trying to grab power, can lead to sectarian violence, secession, or all-out civil war - makes the chaos in Iraq hardly a surprise. The dangerous combination of a weak interim Iraqi government and a growing insurgency opens the very real possibility that a small (or not so small) group of well-funded insurgents could upset the delicate ethnic balance in Iraq.

What can be done? It is time to focus on building human capital by training moderates in the tools of peace. And I've seen evidence firsthand that it can work.


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