Iraqis more secure, but few are finding jobs
Most jobs are in the military, police, and intelligence forces. But Iraqis say those jobs are only attained through family ties or bribes.
Baghdad and Amara, Iraq
Out of a group of 125 graduates in the class of 2007 at Baghdad University's economics department, three landed ministry jobs and four enlisted in the Army. The rest are unemployed.Skip to next paragraph
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This year, the outlook for the 2,800 students graduating from the university's economics and business school is not much better. An estimated 1 percent will find jobs related to their fields, says Thaer al-Ani, an economics professor at the school.
As the security situation improves, polls show that Iraqis are more optimistic than they've been at any time since 2005. Oil revenues are sloshing into the government coffers, providing the government with a record $70 billion budget this year. Iraq's prime minister led a delegation to Europe last week and left with promises of new investment by several German firms. US military officials say they are now focused more on rebuilding than on combat.
Yet as promising as the broader economic trends appear, the view for most Iraqis hasn't improved much – if at all yet.
As the Baghdad University graduating class shows, most good jobs are found in the military, police, and intelligence forces. And many of those jobs are only attained through family ties or payoffs, say Iraqis interviewed.
"Our sole goal is to get a government job…. There aren't other ways for getting ahead," says Asfar Jihad surrounded by her classmates at Baghdad University on a recent morning.
"And the only way you achieve that: pull and connection or bribes," adds her friend Elaf Ahmed.
In 2006, the latest official data available, Iraq's jobless rate was 42.7 percent, according to the Ministry of Planning. But that figure is low, say Mr. Ani and another Iraqi economist, Ahmed al-Wazzan. The unemployment rate doesn't count the "nonproductive workforce" – the tens of thousands of state employees who receive a salary but do little or don't show up for work at all. Unemployment rates are the highest among new graduates, say the two economists
One of the biggest problems, say experts, is that despite the best of intentions, the government continues to be plagued by corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism at every level.
Iraq's main political actors, both in the central and local governments, use their positions and budgets to dole out jobs or simply cash to boost their political leverage. For example, Iraq's Ministry of Youth and Sports is headed by a Shiite. In addition to ensuring that Shiites dominate the ministry, the minister is accused of sabotaging the work of the country's National Olympic Committee once headed by a Sunni. This was one of the reasons cited last week for the International Olympic Committee's ban on Iraqi athletes from participating in the coming Beijing Olympics.
All the main political parties, which tend to be oriented by sect or ethnicity, follow a similar path, creating a recipe for more conflict and turf battles. When one group attains power, the money flows to its supporters only.
Last month, US-backed Iraqi forces launched an operation in the province of Maysan against militia groups linked to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. There was little resistance, but dozens of top local officials associated with Mr. Sadr were arrested.