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Policy, Business and the Future of Iraq

While majoring in Middle Eastern studies at William and Mary, my interests focused on the history, culture, religion and politics of the Malkawiregion. International business and public policy development did not seem as important to me at the time. In the fall of 2004, when William and Mary alumnus Douglas R. Cook (’81), the international executive vice president for TransOcean International, requested my assistance to review and translate into Arabic an “Islamic Compliant Oil-revenue Sharing and Microfinance” white paper for Iraq, getting involved in Iraqi oil revenue-sharing, bank regulatory policy development and international business was the farthest thing from my mind. What did cross my mind, however, was the question as to why Doug, an international exploration geologist and successful oilfield technology entrepreneur, would have such a keen interest in Iraqi oil and economic policy development?

The path to answer that question has taken me home to Jordan, down to Singapore and back to Williamsburg. Since joining TransOcean following graduation last December, I came to understand the key roles private enterprises play in economic development in emerging democracies through providing employment and educational opportunities. I understand why Doug strongly supports the College’s Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy (TJPPP) and serves on its board of advisers, along with his long-time friend William E. Pommerening (’80), the chief executive officer of TransOcean International. I have come to share Doug’s belief that if Washington had deployed a staff of well-trained policy specialists with an understanding and competence in Arab culture and history in 2003, Iraq would be farther toward achieving a sustainable democracy today.

My work with TransOcean led me to focus on the importance and interconnectedness of three major entities: government, educational institutions and private businesses. Deeper cooperation between these three entities prior to and during the war would have prevented many of the failures in Iraq. Government policies of war and post-war reconstruction lacked expertise in the specific historic, cultural, religious and political circumstances of the region, but what really made the situation worse was the lack of U.S.-initiated post-war public-policy and economic-development training for Iraqis. Iraqi officials were well trained in Baathist public policy, but as U.S. forces focused on disassembling Baathist networks, Iraqis were left with a lack of knowledge of the democratic public policy and international economic standards. Mismanagement of the abundant funds allocated for the training of Iraqis only worsened the situation.

Since joining TransOcean, I have been humbled by the realities of doing business in an emerging market in conflict such as Iraq. A yearTransOcean ago I was pensive about working for company so closely tied to the oil industry, but I have come to realize the importance of withholding judgment given how Doug and Bill have so deftly intertwined business and social responsibility. TransOcean’s relationship with its Iraqi and Jordanian partners is testament to the respect and appreciation their foreign partners have for TransOcean’s efforts.

TransOcean became involved in Iraq in 2003 when Doug was invited by the Iraqi Ministry of Oil to evaluate oilfield facilities and equipment in Baghdad, Basra, Baiji and Kirkuk. The company established a network of Iraqi-owned oilfield service companies to focus on oilfield projects in specific regions of Iraq. All the while, TransOcean officials assumed that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) responsible to administer Iraq and establish a fair and transparent government based on democratic principles was assisting the various Iraqi ministries develop regulatory policies to manage oil production, banking, business and taxation. In mid-2004, following a meeting with Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Oil officials in Baghdad, Doug realized that no steps were being taken to prepare an oil exploration and lease policy, not to mention an oil-revenue sharing policy.

The realization that Washington lacked either the interest or competence to help Iraq develop a fair and transparent oil revenue policy, and the knowledge that the Iraq Interim Government desired background information on oil-revenue sharing, resulted in Doug approaching the TJPPP and Tamara Sonn, the College’s Kenan Professor of Humanities and an Islamic scholar, in 2004 to request a white paper on Islamic-compliant oil revenue sharing and microfinance proposals. The TJPPP-TransOcean cooperative relationship has become an excellent example of how private enterprise and academic institutions can develop policy that has a direct and positive impact on economic development of emerging democracies. The oil-revenue sharing and microfinance paper I translated was provided to members of the Draft Constitution Committee in mid-2005 by a senior Iraqi banking consultant working with TransOcean.

I have grown to recognize the critical role and responsibility that the public sector has in the formulation of public policy and trade ethics. The Iraqi government must devise policy that generates trust in governance through transparency and accountability. The United States must provide the example. Responsible private firms such as TransOcean must partner with local Iraqi firms to create employment opportunities and to set the example as to how companies operate profitably in a free market economy. I also have come to recognize the importance of academic institutions such as William and Mary and the University of Jordan in providing education and workshops for civil servants new to the principals of economic governance in a democracy.

It is not too late to turn the wheels and bring about success in Iraq. However, a shift in U.S. and Iraqi political and economic policies is necessary. There is dire need for expertise in Iraqi/Islamic history, culture, economics and politics to develop initiatives that are most suitable for Iraqis. Such initiatives must be developed in cooperation with Iraqi experts; foreign-planned initiatives must not be forced upon Iraqis. Post-war economic development needs to start at the realization that key public and private economic and financial institutions, such as the Iraqi ministries of Finance and Oil, are still functioning on 1960s’ technology and economic standards. There is great need for training programs in current international trade, banking, accounting and other economic standards. Fair and transparent international business policies must be in place to build trustworthy bridges with Iraqi businesses. It is important to engage Iraqis of all backgrounds—Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites and, most importantly, newly emerging women-owned businesses—and to offer them training in modern technology and international business standards.

We cannot export American democratic political and economic standards as they are. They must be defined, shaped and adapted to fit the social, economic, religious and political structure of Iraq. Public policy training must engage all Iraqi groups in developing their own democratic policies that can be best implemented in their country.

TransOcean is an international business consulting company focused on international finance, petroleum and wireless communications industries. Find out more at transoceaninternational.com.