- - Monday, March 27, 2017



The Islamic State (ISIS) has lost significant territory, but its genocide continues. How can it be ended? How can it be reversed?

American and United Nations plans for post-ISIS reconstruction in Iraq focus primarily on Sunni and Shia areas, scandalously neglecting minorities in Northern Iraq — particularly the Christians — who continue to suffer from the ISIS genocide and ongoing discrimination within their country.

These disenfranchised minority groups, including Christians, Yazidis and Turkomen, have made their home in Northern Iraq for millennia. This is by far the most pro-U.S. area in Iraq. In order to reverse the genocide and get these formerly thriving communities earning their daily bread again, we need a safe zone like the ones in Kurdistan (1991) and Bosnia (1993).

The refugee crisis is deepened because well-intentioned efforts by governments and charities have focused exclusively on relief. Emergency relief is one thing, but it very quickly turns toxic as able-bodied adults who hunger to recover their dignity spiral into the depression and despair of not being able to provide for their families. This is why the U.N. says the typical stay in a refugee camp lasts 17 years. Such a horrible waste of human life.

A safe zone, however, could provide security and foster productivity as it did in the wake of genocides in Kurdistan and Bosnia.

The growing consensus among security experts is right about one thing: A coalition of regional forces with international training and assistance should be assembled to provide external security.

But the consensus ignores something every bit as important: Internal security — the cop on the corner, the soldier at the checkpoint — should be indigenous. Longstanding discrimination against minorities means that a Christian in Alqosh or a Yazidi in Sinjar will not see a member of her ethnic group at the checkpoints that regulate entry and exit from her town. Wouldn’t she be more likely to make a bet on the future, to work and take entrepreneurial risks, if she saw that people like her could participate in the most visible institutions of governance and security?

That’s why we need countries with proven ability to train police abroad, like Italy and Denmark, to train indigenous police forces and serve as observers. Then the reconstruction can begin in earnest.

And when it does, Western businesspeople are the best hope to help returning families make that reconstruction a success. Because without restoring their once-flourishing economy that now sits in rubble, these communities can never become self sustaining again.

So governments should do what they can to facilitate the private-sector transactions that will build an economy from the bottom up. Instead of its normal penchant for top-down macroeconomic policies, governments should map the microeconomic assets, including human capacities and capital goods, that can be employed by investors and entrepreneurs in a productive economy. For example, there is no government entity surveying the displaced families to find out what job skills they have. Untold millions are spent on surveys asking the displaced about their demography, about their past, but nothing that will help an investor see that there is a skill that represents an opportunity in the future.

The broken foreign aid industrial complex — governments and nongovernmental organizations — is beset by a kind of conceit that focuses only on what the suffering don’t have, rather than on what they do have. That’s why they aren’t any good at business (which is OK with them, since they tend to have contempt for it). But if they understood the real needs of the persecuted, if they really listened to them, they would see that the validation a job represents is the restoration of dignity.

If government would map those microeconomic assets, from the number of teachers and engineers in the camps, to the numbers of olive and apple trees going unused because of the genocide, investors could step in to fill the gaps, using those assets to create real value and, therefore, making these persecuted communities sustainable again.

That’s why my goal is to connect entrepreneurs there in North America and Europe with entrepreneurs here in Northern Iraq. Use your business skills to help them: Create distribution channels to sell their products, transfer technology to improve their regional competitiveness, mentor them with your expertise, and — when all of that proves to you they are a good bet — invest your capital to make their enterprises grow and provide jobs for their neighbors.

There is nothing you can do that would help them more right now.

• Stephen Hollingshead, an economic development and strategy consultant with offices in Washington, D.C. and Merida, Mexico, directs IraqHaven.org in Northern Iraq.

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