“I want to see Iraq reborn". Mr Alaa Mohie Al-deen wants to help rebuild his country.
This interview was conducted in Baghdad in May 2014 by Pablo Valverde, EITI Country Manager, one week before the capture of parts of Iraq by ISIS forces.
With the largest oil reserves of any EITI country, Iraq’s vast potential is only paralleled by the security challenges that it faces. As the country again approaches the precipice, EITI profile of the month, Mr Alaa Mohie el-Deen, dreams of a day when all Iraqis will live in a prosperous country.
Not planned, but now fully committed
It is rather by coincidence that Mr Alaa found himself spearheading transparency in Iraq’s oil sector as National Coordinator for Iraq EITI (IEITI), a position he has held since 2009. Now a staunch supporter ofgood governance, Mr Alaa confesses that he was largely unaware of the importance of transparency and accountability in the extractive industries until he started working with the EITI. Today, however, he sees this as the condition sine qua non for his country’s economic development.
The son of an entrepreneur, Mr Alaa is a strong believer in the transformative power of the private sector. The private sector brings initiative, specialisation and a focus on results, and this, he says, is exactly what Iraq needs today. But the private sector needs trust and stability, neither of which are abundant in Iraq. That’s where the EITI comes in.
After decades of stagnation under Saddam and a decade of conflict following his removal, Mr Alaa has never given up hope in the “rebirth” of Iraq. The country’s oil wealth, he believes, will be instrumental in breaking the circle. Mr Alaa, however, is worried about the current state of affairs. “If Iraq is seeing any progress," he grumbles, “it’s only because there is so much oil that it can’t all be stolen." That is where he sees that the EITI can make a real difference: “I like to think that IEITI is helping to keep some of the oil wealth for the Iraqi people. Granted, it’s not much yet, but I truly believe that we’re making progress”.
Thinking ahead and hopeful for the future
Progress may be slow, but Mr Alaa is willing to think outside the box to try and bring forth the change he wishes to see. Could, for example, religious leaders be won to communicate revenue transparency in Iraq? As the recent elections showed, the convening power of religion in Iraqi politics should not be underestimated. What if religious leaders could be introduced to the EITI Standard and encouraged to explain its importance in ensuring good governance and accountability? “If I can somehow manage that,” he jokes, “I can retire. Everyone would know about the EITI and look for ways in which to make the reports lead to meaningful reforms.”
Mr Alaa is aware of the challenges ahead, both for the country as a whole and for the management of the extractive industries specifically. Back in the 80s, when sitting in a Kuwaiti prison for his defiance of Saddam, he was convinced that the dictator was the origin of all of Iraq’s problems. Remove Saddam and you remove the problem, he thought. “Instead it turns out we removed one Saddam and thousands took his place!”.
Challenges are lining up for Iraq, and the opportunities for corruption are still many. Things are not as he thought they would be when he decided to return after more than than two decades of exile in the United States and Canada. But Mr Alaa does not despair. He remains convinced that his children will witness the rebirth of his country and believes that the EITI is contributing towards this goal. Sometimes this makes his efforts as National Coordinator so satisfying that he considers it more a hobby than real work!