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Saving Iraq from Its Oil [Foreign Affairs]

July 20, 2004
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From Foreign Affairs, Volume 83 No. 4

By Nancy Birdsall and Arvind Subramanian

Thanks to improvements in exploration technology, 34 less-developed countries now boast significant oil and natural gas resources that constitute at least 30 percent of their total export revenue. Despite their riches, however, 12 of these countries’ annual per capita income remains below $1,500, and up to half of their population lives on less than $1 a day. Moreover, two-thirds of the 34 countries are not democratic, and of those that are, only three score in the top half of the Freedom House’s world ranking of political freedom. In fact, the 34 oil-rich countries share one striking similarity: they have weak, or in some cases, nonexistent political and economic institutions.

Can Iraq avoid the pitfalls that other oil-rich countries have fallen into? Birdsall and Subramanian argue that the answer is yes. But only if Iraq implements a novel arrangement for managing its oil wealth with the help of the international community.

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