In addition to the attacks
and sectarian clashes that dominate the headlines in the worldwide media, the
average Iraqi is also struggling with a difficult financial reality -- trying
to find and keep a job, conducting everyday business and planning a future for
their children in a nation wracked by uncertainty and violence.
think the daily life in Iraq was good in the beginning of the process of Iraq
freedom," said Segvan Hassan, a 26-year-old Kurd who works as a trainer and
supervisor at Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission. "After a few months
it gets bad. Now it's [at its] worst."
sentiments appear to echo those of other Iraqis, many of whom speak of the same
growing frustrations: the cost-of-living increase has exceeded their salary growth
rate, unemployment rates are high, lack of infrastructure forces reliance upon
expensive generators and oil for electricity, and security concerns can make work
a risky business.
Ayub Nuri, a 27-year-old Iraqi, is enrolled in a master's
program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
A native of Kurdistan, he has traveled throughout Iraq as a journalist. According
to Nuri, an Iraqi teacher would make the equivalent of $90 a month, but rent for
a one-bedroom house is likely to be $300 a month.
"What about food,
what about clothes, what about shoes, what about everything else?" he asked.
"People are really depressed and disappointed."
The United Nations
Development Program in 2005 published a survey on living conditions in Iraq taken
between April and August 2004. Compared to the median per capita household income
in 2003 which was roughly $255, the 2004 median income fell to $144.
of the contributing factors to the drop in per capita income has been the steady
rise in unemployment in nearly all parts of the country.
Under Saddam Hussein's
regime, the government was the primary employer, particularly for those with college
degrees. Baath Party members, in particular, were apt to earn higher salaries
or have better opportunities. Today, estimates for the unemployment rate range
from 20 percent to 60 percent, according to the Iraq Study Group's report.
by the high unemployment rate and continuing attacks in the southern parts of
the country, large populations of Iraqis have left their homes in search of work,
causing economic problems in parts of Iraq, such as Kurdistan, where there are
more jobs and security.
"The bad situation going on in other parts
of Iraq has made thousands leave the southern and center to come into the north
to get employed," says Nuri. "There is a competition between people
who come from other parts of Iraq and the local people for housing. The local
people can rarely afford to rent. Thousands of laborers sleep in the street or
in the park because the hotels are full."
Many Iraqis also express
concern that foreign goods have flooded their markets, driving down prices and
making it more difficult for local companies to compete.
textile factories have closed down because the Iraqi market has been occupied
by cheap foreign foods or clothes," according to Nuri. "The government
does not ban foreign things, does not supply factories with electricity or other
goods. [Infrastructure] breaks damage the local industry and hundreds or thousands
At a farmers' market in Dahuk, the northern-most Iraqi
province bordering Turkey, a 28-pound bag of potatoes from Iran sells for $3.33,
a 55-pound bag of Syrian tomatoes sells for $2; a two-pound bag of local onions
sells for 40 cents, which comparatively would make a 28-pound bag sell for $5.60.
Eric Nigh, vice president of corporate development at the Iraqi American
Chamber of Commerce in Baghdad, attributed the cost-of-living problems in Iraq
to bad security and infrastructure, as well as to the fact that living standards
Once Saddam's regime fell, the market became flooded with
goods that were previously inaccessible, creating a desire for a higher standard
of living, according to Nigh.
To repair some of these problems, the U.S.
government launched a number of programs aimed at repairing the shattered economy.
The Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq has poured
money and resources into the North of the country, hoping to repair the fragile
agriculture business, the second-largest industry and employer behind petroleum.
In Dahuk, American agronomists have introduced T-trellising, drip line
irrigation and new cultivation technologies in an effort to revitalize grape cultivation.
ARDI also has donated $28.9 million to a tractor repair and renovation program.
and the former Coalition Provisional Authority also have funneled more than $40
million to microfinance programs, which enable the very poor to take out small
loans to start new businesses.
These programs have had some positive results.
In 2006, the Southern province of Wasit harvested and shipped more than 110,000
tons of wheat and 90,000 tons of barley, a record crop for the province and four
times larger than 2005's combined 48,000 tons, according to the U.S. Department
addition to development programs, the United States is encouraging private sector
development and foreign investment, through organizations such as the Iraq Reconstruction
Management Office, in hopes of transitioning the country's economy to a free market
one. Under Saddam, most major industries were state controlled.
support Iraqis moving forward in many areas," said June Reed, a senior adviser
with IRMO. "We look at it in many layers, taking a very broad view -- investment
laws, the new security law. There are a variety of laws that have helped transform
this very command control economy to a market-based one."
she believes that Iraq needs to fully embrace the global marketplace if the country
is to compete, advocating that the unsteady state seek to join the World Trade
"It not only requires liberalization for certain laws
and a free market, but it also provides specific protection if outside economies
are dumping into your economy, you can take action," she said.
free market advocates like Reed, it is about returning Iraq to its pre-Baathist
days when there was a "robust, mercantile society with strong banks, and
a full and open market competitive in a variety of industries."
according to some Iraqis, returning to the past system will not be easy since
many Iraqis have never known the culture of banking at all.
know that there is something called a bank but are unaware of how it works and
they do not trust it at all. People who have money, they keep it at home,"
said Nuri, the Iraqi journalist living in New York.
Reed noted that the
number of deposits has "increased substantially" since the U.S. invasion,
but that it is a "far cry" from everyone having savings and checking
accounts, let alone credit cards.
But no matter how enthusiastically Iraqis
embrace the free market, the struggle for stability remains the major stumbling
block for many trying to live day-to-day in Iraq.
"I would prefer to
be poor and safe, not to be rich and be afraid I'm being attacked for my money,"
said another Iraqi student living in New York City, who wished not to be identified
for fear of repercussions against his family still living in Iraq.