Iraq declared a state of emergency over the weekend. Not to fight off a resurgent ISIS. But to quell week-long protests across the southern part of the country.
Basra is the richest of all Iraq’s provinces. Not least because it is the largest producer of national oil; accounting for at least 85 percent of government revenue. Yet locals say there is little or no trickle-down effect. Indeed, they complain of poor public services and corruption. This led to the storming of a provincial government building in the city of Kerbala over the weekend. Baghdad has now shut down access to social media and internet services.
That this comes in the wake of general elections represents a blow to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. After all, his Sairoon Alliance — bringing together the Sadrist Movement and Iraq’s Communist Party — emerged as the biggest winner at the polls. The Alliance had run on a pro-poor and anti-corruption mandate.
Another problem is that two months after Iraqis went ballot-boxing back in May, the country still has no representative government. For in the immediate electoral aftermath many parties cried political foul. Thus last month, a manual recount of some 11 million votes was ordered. This represents a mammoth task. One made almost impossible to complete given that last month a ballot storage box was set on fire.
This is much more than just a country recovering from an unjust war and demolition of a functional state. Locals in Basra have long complained that the region has not been allowed to prosper to the point where wealth flows are incoming. National unemployment runs at 10.8 percent. Though when it comes to the young generation, the figure jumps to over 20 percent. Nearly 59 percent of the population is under the age of 25.
The 2003 US-UK war of aggression in Iraq actively decimated local political structures and gave birth to Al Qaeda and ISIS in that country. But as with all military occupations, the presence of foreign troops does little to inject cash into local circular flows of income. Instead, lives are conducted almost entirely on base; with foodstuffs imported directly from home. Unlike international aid workers, there is little chance of boosting the domestic economy in simple terms.
That being said, what a prolonged military presence does may be far more damaging over a prolonged period. Particularly when engaged in combat. For this permanently stunts economic growth and educational development.
Thus Iraqis should be clear about just what they are getting into regarding the new American bases that are reportedly being planned in Anbar province. For if this has implications for long-term US involvement in the Syrian conflict across the border — the people or Iraq will likely be in a state of economic dire straits for a long time to come. *
Published in Daily Times, July 16th 2018.