Protests in Iraq that flared up last week have led to more than a hundred deaths and point to a long-term conflict between the country’s youth and the government.
Economic forces are at the root of much of the youth discontent in Iraq, which has one of the youngest populations of any country in the world.
“The young people of Iraq are asking for jobs and good quality of life. That is their request from the government,” said Kossay Kamalaldeen Al-Ahmady, president of the University of Mosul. (Mosul, in northern Iraq, is recovering from the war on the Islamic State and has not witnessed protests.)
The country is in an economic vise, with billions going annually to its civil service. Each government worker has been estimated by the World Bank to get about 17 minutes of work done per day. Iraq is currently the seventh largest oil producing country, but oil revenue has been dropping. Little of the money the country earns is being invested in future economic growth or spreading services to a larger share of the population.
Meanwhile about 700,000 young Iraqis come onto the job market each year. A primer on job creation in Iraq written for the World Bank estimated the youth unemployment rate at 36 percent.
Much of the money the country brings in is siphoned off by corruption. On Transparency International’s corruption scale, which goes from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), Iraq ranks 18. A member of a parliamentary committee supposed to be investigating corruption acknowledged publicly that he too had taken millions in bribes. Half a billion dollars intended to enrich the cultural spaces in the country largely went to waste. (See a related article, “Corruption Sidetracks Projects Intended to Make Baghdad a ‘Capital of Arab Culture.’”)
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While some young university graduates are starting up co-working spaces in Baghdad and trying to ride the regional enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, many others are clamoring to get in on the easy government jobs.