Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many
Iraqi girls check a computer at "The Station", Baghdad's incubator for would-be entrepreneurs, in the Iraqi capital on November 17, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 01 December 2021

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

Iraq’s ‘wasta’ system favors lucky few, frustrates many

BAGHDAD: Abu Zeinab says only one of his five adult children has a job, and he only got it through “wasta,” the system of “who you know” that is Iraq’s pervasive scourge.
The practice has fueled frustration, mass anti-government protests and waves of emigration from the oil-rich, war-scarred and poverty-stricken country, say analysts.
“All my children, including my three daughters, have finished their university studies, but only one has been able to find a job,” said Abu Zeinab, a 60-year-old retiree living in Baghdad.
“The others are trying, without success.”
For his 28-year-old son, wasta turned out to be the “joker” that made all the difference, when a relative helped him land a coveted contract job, renewed annually, with a government ministry.
“Poverty pushes people toward wasta,” said the patriarch, with resignation in his voice.
Wasta refers to using one’s family, communal or party connections to obtain jobs and benefits — something that is universal but seen as especially widespread and corrosive in Iraq.
While the lucky few get well-paying and secure jobs with generous pensions, nearly 40 percent of young people are unemployed, with few prospects for their future.
Anger at the patronage, nepotism and cronyism that underpin the system was amid the key grievance expressed by protesters in a wave of mass rallies in late 2019.
It is the hopelessness felt by those who miss out that has fueled the widespread wish to leave Iraq, say analysts.
The latests waves of emigration have seen thousands of Iraqis freeze on the Belarus-Polish border, and some perish when their boat capsized in the icy waters of the Channel.
Some 95 percent of Iraqis say wasta is needed “often or sometimes” to find a job, according to the World Bank’s so-called Arab Barometer Report of 2019.
“All of society agrees that without wasta you cannot achieve anything,” said political scientist Thamer Al-Haimes.
The problem results from a “weakness of the law” which fails to create a level playing field, he said, and “hinders the development of the country” while driving emigration.
Those who fail to benefit often spend all their savings, or take on debt, to attempt the risky journey to Western Europe, dreaming of a better life and the benefits of a welfare state.
Iraq is ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, in 160th place out of 180 in Transparency International’s corruption index.
Even though it has the second largest energy reserves in the Middle East, one third of Iraq’s 40 million people live below the poverty line, says the UN.
Even though wasta is widely regarded as a problem, most people also say they have no choice but to benefit from it if the opportunity arises.
“I tried several times to find a job in any public institution — I applied more than 20 times, without success,” said Omran, a 32-year-old sociology graduate.
He finally got a position in the police force, but only after joining the right political party, he admitted.
Another man interviewed by AFP, Jassem, had a similar experience: he had become a civil servant only two days after a chance meeting with an influential parliamentarian.
Iraq’s bloated public sector is the country’s biggest employer, and the wages it pays are the state’s largest expense.
Between 2003, when a US-led invasion overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, and 2015, the number of civil servants soared from 900,000 to more than three million.
“The dramatic rise in clientelistic hiring since 2003 has contributed to a ballooning of public sector employment,” says a World Bank report from 2017.
“Employment and promotion in the civil service have become increasingly non-meritocratic, and the sector has come to be viewed as a de facto social safety net,” it says.
It labelled the system “unsustainable,” arguing that only a well-functioning economy with a good business environment and investment climate creates sustainable employment.
Ahmed, 29, a resident of the southeastern town of Kut, said he spent many years looking for work in his poor and marginalized region.
One day, luck smiled on the father-of-two, who has a degree in management and economics, when he met the bodyguard of a senior government official.
This connection landed him a job in education — but only after he paid a fee of one million Iraqi dinars, about $800, financed with a bank loan.
“I feel remorse because I had to pay a bribe to work, but I had to,” he said. “There is no job without wasta.”


Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece
Updated 8 sec ago

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece

Iran tanker retrieves oil seized by US, set to leave Greece
  • Oil seized by US from Lana prompted Iranian forces to seize two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf

ATHENS: An Iranian-flagged tanker has retrieved an oil cargo which the United States had confiscated and is set to leave Greece, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.
The seizure from the Lana, formerly the Pegas, prompted Iranian forces in May to seize two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf which have not yet been released.
The United States had hired a tanker in April to impound the oil onboard the Lana tanker, which had been anchored off Greece.
The oil was then partly removed and placed aboard the Ice Energy tanker, which had been chartered by Washington and had been expected to sail to United States before Greece’s supreme court ruled that the cargo should be returned to Iran.
“The reloading process is complete,” one of the sources said. Another source said it was completed on Sunday.
The embassy of Iran in Athens said on Aug 12 on Twitter that the vessel would sail to Iran after the reloading was completed.
It was not clear if Lana, which had engine problems, could sail unassisted.
For over two months, Lana remained under arrest off the Greek island of Evia, near the town of Karystos. It was tugged to Piraeus following court orders that allowed its release.
The tanker has been anchored off Piraeus since late July.


Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday

Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday
Updated 17 min 48 sec ago

Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday

Iran says to deliver ‘final’ nuclear talks proposal Monday
  • Iran may accept a final compromise worked out in Vienna to save the landmark 2015 deal
  • Tehran said US agreed to two of its demands

TEHRAN: Iran will respond to the European Union’s “final” draft text to save a 2015 nuclear deal by midnight on Monday, its foreign minister said, calling on the United States to show flexibility to resolve three remaining issues.
After 16 months of fitful, indirect US-Iranian talks, with the EU shuttling between the parties, a senior EU official said on Aug. 8 it had laid down a “final” offer and expected a response within a “very, very few weeks.”
While Washington has said it is ready to quickly seal a deal to restore the 2015 accord on the basis of the EU proposals, Iranian negotiators said Tehran’s “additional views and considerations” to the EU text would be conveyed later.
“Our answer will be given to the EU tonight at 12 midnight...There are three issues that if resolved, we can reach an agreement in the coming days,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said, suggesting Tehran’s response would not be a final acceptance or rejection of the EU proposal.
“We have told them that our red lines should be respected...We have shown enough flexibility...We do not want to reach a deal that after 40 days, two months or three months fails to be materialized on the ground.”
Diplomats and officials told Reuters that whether or not Tehran and Washington accept the EU’s “final” offer, neither is likely to declare the pact dead because keeping it alive serves both sides’ interests.
Amirabdollahian said that “the coming days are very important” to see whether the United States will show flexibility over the remaining three issues.
“It would not be end of the world if they fail to show flexibility...Then we will need more efforts and talks...to resolve the remaining issues,” he said.
The stakes are high, since failure in the nuclear negotiations would carry the risk of a fresh regional war with Israel threatening military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to prevent Tehran develop a nuclear weapons capability.
Tehran, which has long denied having such ambition, has warned of a “crushing” response to any Israeli attack.
“Like Washington, we have our own plan B if the talks fail,” Amirabdollahian said.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump reneged on the deal reached before he took office, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring the Islamic Republic to begin breaching its limits on uranium enrichment.
The 2015 agreement appeared on the verge of revival in March after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and US President Joe Biden’s administration in Vienna.
But talks broke down over obstacles including Tehran’s demand that Washington provide guarantees that no US president would abandon the deal as Trump did.
Biden cannot promise this because the nuclear deal is a non-binding political understanding, not a legally binding treaty.
“They need to adopt a realistic approach about guarantees. Regarding the two other remaining issues, they have shown some relative flexibility verbally, but it needs to be mentioned in the text,” Amirabdollahian said.


Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties
Updated 15 August 2022

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties

Drone attack targets US base in Syria, no casualties
  • Attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet
BEIRUT: An attack with drones hit a compound run by American troops and US-backed Syrian opposition fighters in eastern Syria on Monday, the US military said, adding that there were no casualties or damage.
The military said the attack took place in the vicinity of Al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter militants from the Daesh group. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces, stretching from Tehran all the way to Lebanon.
The military statement said coalition troops in coordination with opposition fighters — known as Maghaweir Al-Thowra — “responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of Al-Tanf Garrison” on Monday morning.
It said the troops successfully engaged one of the drones preventing its impact while a second one detonated within the opposition forces’ compound, “resulting in zero casualties or reported damage.” The other attempted drone strikes were not successful, it added.
Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force, condemned the drone strike. “Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of IS,” he said, using an acronym for the Daesh group.
The attack occurred hours after Israeli airstrikes on western and central Syria killed three soldiers, wounded three others and caused material damage.
A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Israeli strikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.
Drone attacks on Al-Tanf have been rare.
In October last year, US officials said they believe Iran was behind a drone attack that month in Al-Tanf saying at the time that they believe that the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges. It said the drones hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
The October attacks came days after an Israeli airstrike on central Syria.

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie
Updated 15 August 2022

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

Iran denies being involved in attack on Salman Rushdie

TEHRAN, Iran: An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country’s first public comments on the attack.
The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, come over two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York.
However, Iran has denied carrying out other operations abroad targeting dissidents in the years since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite prosecutors and Western governments attributing such attacks back to Tehran.
“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US, do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Kanaani said. “Nobody has right to accuse Iran in this regard.”
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.
His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack through his lawyer.
The award-winning author for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.
Kanaani added that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.”

Freedom of speech does not justify Rushdie's insults upon religion in his writing, Kanaani said.
The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.


Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid

Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid
Updated 15 August 2022

Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid

Israeli police kill Palestinian in east Jerusalem raid
  • The Jerusalem violence followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank

JERUSALEM: Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man who attempted to stab officers during a raid in east Jerusalem on Monday, police said.
The officers were conducting a search for illegal weapons in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, the police said. When officers approached the home, the man, armed with a knife, tried to stab them. They fired on the suspect and he was later pronounced dead, police said. Palestinian media identified the man as Mohammed Al-Shaham.
The incident came a day after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a bus outside Jerusalem’s Old City, wounding eight, among them US citizens.
The US State Department condemned the Jerusalem attack late on Sunday, and said at least five of the victims were American citizens. “We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
The Jerusalem violence followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that was reached last week ended three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza that saw at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children and 14 militants, killed.
A day after the cease-fire halted the worst round of Gaza fighting in more than a year, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants and wounded dozens in a shootout that erupted during an arrest raid in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank.