Courtesy Reuters

How Best to Build Democracy: Laying a Foundation for the New Iraq

Adeed Dawisha and Karen Dawisha's excellent article "How to Build a Democratic Iraq" (May/June 2003) contains a series of valuable recommendations and admonitions. The few failings of their article lie less in what they advocate or reject than in what they leave out. The following recommendations draw on the experiences of other democratizing countries to fill in several gaps in the Dawishas' analysis. Together they aim to enhance the likelihood that democracy takes root and survives in Iraq.


One of the biggest dangers facing postwar Iraq is the prospect of its becoming a classic "petro-state" (like Nigeria or Venezuela), in which vast revenues from the sale of oil accrue to a shaky national government. Such states are characterized by massive corruption, fiscal profligacy, and vicious zero-sum competition for control of oil revenues. Politicians who gain power in these countries typically invest heavily in repression to retain it.

Privatizing Iraq's oil industry would not avert this danger because the immense revenue that the government would receive from royalties, taxes, or auctions could be misspent in the same way as are revenues from the sale of oil. Instead, oil revenues should be driven as far from the federal government as possible, down to states, localities, and even individuals. Dawisha and Dawisha dislike the idea of giving each Iraqi citizen a bank account, into which equal shares of Iraq's monthly oil revenues could be deposited. But this system, or something like it, should be the goal. The result would be to put the country's wealth directly into the hands of Iraqis, to remove discretionary authority from the national government, and to force the government to rely on taxation for income -- which would force it, in turn, to report and justify its expenditures.

Another key component of the transition process will be to create an effective electoral system. To ensure that early standard-setting elections are free and fair, foreigners could step into the role of conducting and overseeing them. But once

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