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Economic Development Can Help Curb Violence in Iraq, Expert Says

In a series on U.S. strategy in Iraq, Eric Davis, a professor of Middle East politics at Rutgers University, discusses how investing in economic development projects can help curb the violence in the war-torn country.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, another of our conversations about what the U.S. can or should do next in Iraq. We've heard already about ending the occupation, decentralizing Iraq, and training Iraqi security forces. Tonight, it's an economic idea. And Ray Suarez is in charge.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And for that, we're joined by Eric Davis, professor of Middle East politics at Rutgers University and author of "Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq." This summer, he was part of a group of academics who advised President Bush at the White House about Iraq.

    And, Professor Davis, when you spoke to the president, did you give him your view that what's often portrayed as a security challenge, as a military challenge, is really an economic one?

  • ERIC DAVIS, Professor, Rutgers University:

    Absolutely. I made the argument that, without turning the Iraqi economy around, we can't expect the decline in political violence nor can we expect to move towards political stability in Iraq.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And hasn't that jobs-economy approach long been part of the stated policy of the Bush administration in prosecuting the Iraq war, that American troops were to clear areas, hold them, and use that time to rebuild them?

  • ERIC DAVIS:

    Well, unfortunately, it may have been the stated policy of the Bush administration, but little has been done on the ground. And the key problem is unemployment.

    We have an unemployment in Iraq estimated between 40 percent and possibly 60 percent. If you also realize that 61 percent of the Iraqi population is under 25 and there's been almost no new job creation since 2003, it doesn't take very much arithmetic to realize who are the most susceptible to recruitment to insurgent groups and sectarian death squads.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, are you willing to elide those two points, to say here that that, those dire numbers that you just stated, drive the security problem?

  • ERIC DAVIS:

    Well, I think that, unfortunately, much of what is described in the media as sectarian violence is really a cover for criminal activity and for promoting the political interests of what I call sectarian entrepreneurs. These are people who are pushing a political agenda, trying to obtain more power, but who also have deep economic interests in the current struggle that's under way in Iraq.

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