The first things that come to mind when Mesopotamia is mentioned are wealth, prosperity, high level of culture and civilization. One might therefore expect the same to apply to Iraq, which was also founded in the region. Sadly, however, the situation in present-day Iraq, which stands right on Mesopotamia, is very different.
Iraq is a country with fertile agricultural lands, waterways and energy reserves, but it still lacks wealth, peace and happiness.
Although it is widely thought of as oil-rich, its economy today is in a dire predicament due to mistaken strategies, security problems, internal and external difficulties and poverty.
Iraqi Minister for Migration and Migrants Derbaz Muhammad describes the condition as follows: “Eight million people in Iraq need aid, and there are 1.3 million who have abandoned their homes… In addition, hundreds of thousands of our citizens cannot meet their basic food needs and are facing the threat of hunger.”
Policies had reduced poverty levels to 19%, but by 2014, following terror incidents in the region, that level has increased to 22.5%, and is even worse in 2015.
So how did Iraq reach this point?
In the early 20th century, the economy of Iraq was based on livestock rearing. It also came to be an important grain exporter due to its land on Mesopotamia. But it is alarming that from having exported grain in the past it is now having to import cereal products.
After the 1950s, Iraq, with the world’s second largest oil reserves, came to enjoy a growing share of the world oil trade. After becoming increasingly wealthy thanks to its oil, Iraq saw the first blow to its economy in the Iran-Iraq War. Per capita income plummeted by 40% during that time, and oil exports shrank from 3.5 million barrels to between 800-900,000.
The imposition of political and military embargoes on Iraq was another important factor in the worsening of its economy. For example, during the Iran-Iraq War, Syria severed Iraq’s pipeline and severe sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1991 and 1992 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In addition, these sanctions caused terrible devastation to the Iraqi people, as well as the economy, inflicting famine, disease and poverty on the population.
There are currently no ongoing strategic projects in the country, and investments have ceased. Factories engaged in manufacturing are closing down one by one. The daily losses suffered by companies and five-star hotels in Suleymaniye alone are around $15 million. Commerce in Iraq has only been able to survive to some extent thanks to the oil fields in the province of Basra.
Corruption has dealt another severe blow to the economy of Iraq, which was already wrestling with internal and external interventions. Adil Nuri, spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament’s Commission of Integrity, reveals the terrible scale of the situation in these words; “Let us have a look at the history of world corruption. $500 billion have never been stolen in any country before in such a short space of time. The Iraqi Treasury received approximately $1 trillion in 8 years (2006-2014) ($822 billion from oil sales and $250 in US aid), but half of that disappeared, or else it is unclear where it went.” According to Adil Nuri, arms purchases represent the largest part of this corruption.
Another element of corruption in addition to the billions of missing dollars, is the 4,600 projects planned during the previous administration that received $700 billion but never went ahead.i
Corruption also manifests itself in the military. Misha’an al-Juburi, a member of the parliamentary commission, has announced that 23,000 ‘phantom’ soldiers have been identified in the Iraqi Army, and that the pensions paid to these over the last 5 years total in the region is $1 billion.ii
In addition to ‘phantom retired soldiers,’ there are officially stated to be 57,000 ‘phantom civil servants’ in the country. These people, who on paper are employed in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and who have been drawing salaries ever since 2007, go into work solely in order to receive these payments.iii
Although people occasionally take to the streets to protest against these things, the persisting climate of turmoil in the country represents a significant obstacle to the expression of such demands for justice.
Eight million people stand in need of aid in this country that should be one of the world’s wealthiest; 1.3 million of these have had to leave their homes, while hundreds of thousands are unable to meet their basic food needs.
The people of Iraq generally attribute their troubles today to the Gulf wars, the U.S. invasion, developments in Syria and the presence of terror in the region. However, while all these factors may play a role, the true reason is very different.
The real reason for what is happening in Iraq is fragmentation. Everyone agrees that Iraq will soon effectively be divided into three parts, the Shiites in the south, the Sunnis in the center and the Sunni Kurds in the north.
Iraqi society is unable to coalesce because of the socialist-based education it received throughout the time of the Ba’ath regime. Although it may appear to be a single country today, it is in fact divided in practice and psychologically due to incitement by nationalist and sectarian elements. The Shiites are adopting their own strategies, while the central administration and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north are about to split apart.
Yet during the Ottoman times, Shiites, Turkmens, Yazidis and Sunnis in Iraq lived together in peace and happiness. The people of Iraq, the great majority of whom are Muslims, must not forget that they are brothers with other communities in that same land, and must stand united in the face of external threats.
In addition, this country that used to live on revenues from agriculture and livestock raising alone, also possesses rich oil reserves. However, because the various sides in Iraq do not trust one another, they are engaged in a fight for power and authority.
Yet if these Iraqi communities were to act as a single body they could obviously enjoy great strength and prosperity with the help of oil revenues.
The priority for every Iraqi citizen in Iraq must be the existence, integrity and future of Iraq, not his own ethnicity. Once they can establish a powerful solidarity based on mutual love, respect and understanding, most of the existing exploitation or wasting of the national resources can come to an end, and the country can again progress down the road to being a strong and prosperous land.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Ekurd Daily: