- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Iraq does not even crack the top 20 in an authoritative new ranking of the world’s most unstable places, to be released today by the London-based private intelligence firm Jane’s Information Group.

The survey, an advance copy of which was provided to The Washington Times, rates the Palestinian territories as the world’s most unstable country or territory, with Afghanistan, Haiti and seven African countries filling out the top 10.

Despite an insurgency and sectarian strife dating back to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq is listed by Jane’s risk analysts at 22nd among the world’s 235 countries, territories and political entities, on par with countries such as Burundi and Nigeria.

“There’s no doubt that Iraq right now has perhaps the world’s most virulent insurgency within its borders, but the country has its strengths as well,” said Christian Le Miere, managing editor of Jane’s Country Risk, the journal that compiles the rankings.

“Despite its problems, the central government enjoys effective control of large sections of its territory, and the economy is doing relatively well in many sectors,” he said. “Contrast that with, say, Afghanistan, where the central government is very weak, the drug trade is undermining the economy and the government cannot assert its will over warlords who run much of the hinterlands.”

The Jane’s survey differs from a number of other recent global rankings on the prospect for instability in Iraq.

The latest annual survey from Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace put Iraq second, behind only Sudan, among the world’s failed states.A ranking by the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management listed Afghanistan and Iraq as the two countries at the highest risk for political instability.

Iraq’s oil exports have begun to recover just as world prices are setting new records. Despite all its troubles, Iraq is looking at a massive budget surplus in the coming years as its seeks to finance the country’s reconstruction, officials in Baghdad said yesterday.

Jane’s, now owned by Colorado information company IHS Inc., is more than 100 years old and has long provided private intelligence services and risk analysis to clients on a private basis. This is the first time it has made its global instability rankings public.

Mr. Le Miere said his firm’s analysts rate a country’s vulnerability by measuring 24 factors across five broad categories — politics, society, economy, military-security and external threats.

“In some ways, it’s very difficult to define what a ‘failed state’ actually is,” he said. “We try to focus on objective factors that make a country more or less likely to be unstable.”

The Palestinian territories in Gaza and the West Bank are particularly vulnerable for a number of factors, including a lack of border controls, a violent power struggle between rival Palestinian factions, crime and poor levels of public health.

Afghanistan comes in third, behind Somalia, where the central government again has little functional control, borders are unsupervised and public services almost nonexistent.

Pakistan is listed at No. 28, North Korea at No. 45 and Iran 69th in the Jane’s list, though the company acknowledges that getting reliable data from a closed society such as North Korea makes the analysis more difficult.

Mr. Le Miere said some countries that have caused U.S. policy-makers concern score well on his firm’s analysis. The small Gulf states, including Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, rank high in a number of stability factors in the Jane’s survey, ahead of many central and Eastern European countries.

At the top of the Jane’s spectrum, Vatican City, the papal enclave in Rome, is listed as the most stable place on earth, followed by Sweden and Luxembourg.

The United States rates 22nd from the top, tied with Canada in the survey, with the “porosity” of American borders and the prevalence of guns keeping the United States from a higher score.

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