Soaring unemployment fuels protests in southern Iraq

Police prevent protesters — demanding jobs — from storming the provincial council building during a demonstration in Basra, where unemployment has shot up sharply to at least 30 percent. (AP)
Updated 26 July 2018
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Soaring unemployment fuels protests in southern Iraq

  • “If you are well-connected mainly among political parties and have money, you will get any job you dream of. If not, you will get nothing”
  • In Basra, a city of more than 4 million, the unemployment rate shot up sharply to at least 30 percent

BAGHDAD: For more than three years after graduation, Karar Alaa Abdul-Wahid tried to get a stable job in the Iraqi government and in the private sector — to no avail.
He once was offered a job with the oil ministry in his energy-rich hometown of Basra, but it came with a hefty price: he would have to pay a bribe of $5,000, which he couldn’t afford.
“Every place has a copy of my resume attached with a request for job,” Abdul-Wahid, a graduate of the Basra Technical Institution, told The Associated Press by phone from the southern city.
“If you are well-connected mainly among political parties and have money, you will get any job you dream of,” Abdul-Wahid said. “If not, you will get nothing.”
Mismanagement since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein has increased joblessness nationwide. In more recent years, idle young men were lured into the ranks of militant extremists, and now unemployment is fueling violent protests in the capital of Baghdad and the Shiite heartland in the south.
Demonstrations involving thousands of people broke out this month in Basra province, protesting the lack of jobs and poor public services, including frequent power outages.
According to the World Bank, the overall unemployment rate in Iraq stands at 11.2 percent and is nearly twice that, 21.6 percent, in areas that once were under Daesh control and endured heavy destruction from military operations that officially ended late last year.
As of 2014, the poverty rate increased from 19.8 percent in 2012 to an estimated 22.5 percent, it added.
In Basra, a city of more than 4 million, the unemployment rate shot up sharply to at least 30 percent, according to deputy Gov. Dhirgham Al-Ajwadi.
Between 30,000 and 35,000 students graduate from the city’s private and government universities and institutions, and most of them end up without jobs, he said, blaming federal officials for not focusing on what the labor market needs.
The Basra protests have spread to other cities and threatened to paralyze the oil industry, the lifeline of Iraq’s economy. They have derailed traffic at main ports on the Arabian Gulf and neighboring Iran and Kuwait.
To contain the unrest, the federal government promised an urgent allocation of 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($3 billion) for electricity and water projects, as well as 10,000 jobs.
But the requests for jobs exceed that number, with more than 85,000 people applying so far, Al-Ajwadi said. “Till now, there is no plan on how and when this will be implemented.”
Unemployment has been one of the thorniest issues for the government, with 70 percent of Iraqis under age 40 looking for work.
The eldest of six children, the 26-year-old Abdul-Wahid has taken a series of unstable jobs since 2015 to help his family. But he recently got an idea he saw while surfing the Internet: selling hot and iced drinks around the city from a vehicle.
“I liked it because it’s something new and no one did it before in Basra,” he said.
He borrowed money from relatives and friends to buy and modify a small car. Then approached a coffee-machine supplier, which helped him with a free machine and discounts on supplies.
He now roams Basra’s streets, offering various types of coffee, tea and other hot and cold beverages. He makes around 900,000 Iraqi dinar (about $750) a month.
Abdul-Wahid considers himself lucky, because his peers are forced to take menial jobs despite their education.
“There are graduates who work as accountants in small business or construction workers or cleaners in hospitals or security guards in malls because they want feed their families,” he said. “The situation of youth in Basra is miserable.”
He lamented that Basra is seen as “the mother of wealth” because it has about 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels, along with its ports.
“When we think of all the wealth we have, we feel sad and upset. We deserve to live a better life, not only compared to other Iraqis but compared to the world,” he said.
Iraq suffered a double shock in 2014, when militants from the Daesh group swept through areas in the north and west and the price of oil plummeted on international markets. Oil revenues make up nearly 95 percent of the federal budget.
That forced the government to stop hiring and to divert much of its resources to the costly campaign to battle the militants, severely affecting job creation, the private sector and investor confidence. As a result, growth has been stunted, with poverty and unemployment on the rise.
Among Iraq’s many unemployed is Ali Fadhil Kadhim, a 25-year-old graduate with a degree in science and physical education who has taken part in the Basra protests.
Like others, he has applied for jobs but is not optimistic.
“These promises are just anesthetization for the people and to keep them silent,” said Kadhim, who has worked as a security guard, construction worker and taxi driver. “We started a revolution and we will not give up.”


Iran lawmakers authorize firm action against US ‘terrorist’ acts

Updated 23 April 2019
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Iran lawmakers authorize firm action against US ‘terrorist’ acts

  • President Donald Trump on April 8 designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist group
  • Tehran reacted to the designation by naming the US Central Command a terrorist organization

DUBAI: Iran’s parliament passed a bill on Tuesday requiring the government take firm steps to respond to “terrorist actions” by US forces, state TV reported, retaliating against Washington’s blacklisting of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
President Donald Trump on April 8 designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist group, in an unprecedented step that drew Iranian condemnation and raised concerns about retaliatory attacks on US forces.
Tehran reacted to the designation, which took effect on April 15, by naming the US Central Command (CENTCOM) a terrorist organization and the US government a sponsor of terrorism.
“The bill authorizes the government to take firm and retaliatory measures against terrorist activities of American forces that endangers Iran’s interests,” TV reported.
“The government should use legal, political and diplomatic measures in response to the American actions.”
Highly loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the IRGC is a powerful force which controls much of the Iranian economy and wields political influence in the country’s faction-ridden clerical establishment.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said some 168 lawmakers out of 210 present at the parliament voted for the bill.
Tensions have been on the rise between Tehran and Washington since last year, when Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.
In recent years, there have been periodic confrontations between the IRGC and US military in the Gulf.
The new chief commander of the IRGC Hossein Salami, appointed after the US blacklisting, has warned in the past that Iran could use its cruise and ballistic missiles and drones, mines, speedboats, and missile launchers in the Gulf area to confront the United States.
The Trump administration, which has taken a hard line on Iran, said in a statement on Monday that the president has decided not to reissue waivers in May allowing importers to buy Iranian oil without facing US sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the heightening economic pressure on Iran showed that Washington was in panic.
“Escalating #EconomicTERRORISM against Iranians exposes panic & desperation of US regime — and chronic failures of its client co-conspirators,” Zarif Tweeted on Tuesday.
A commander of Iran’s IRGC said on Monday that Tehran would block all exports through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if Tehran is barred from using the waterway, where a fifth of global oil consumption passes on its way from Middle East producers to major markets.