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Basra jobs a ‘reward’ for ballots and bulldozing?

Nagham Makki

Dec. 17, 2023
Image of Basra jobs a ‘reward’ for ballots and bulldozing?

Iraq’s official joblessness level of 15.5% has dropped, officials say, while youths claim unsavory pre-vote tactics give them false hopes.

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BASRA, Iraq - A wave of excitement washed over him when he saw a call for applications for 12,000 job openings in Iraq’s Basra Mall, one of the largest investment projects in the oil-rich city in southern Iraq.

The man in his twenties, who asked to be called “Alaa”, told The New Region that he initially could not get the link to open and later found out that the news of so many jobs available had simply been propaganda ahead of Iraq’s December 18 provincial council elections, the first to be held in over a decade. 

One of the candidates, he claimed, had pledged to ensure a job appointment in exchange for 10 votes. 
 
Though The New Region could not verify the veracity of this claim, others point to similar methods used ahead of the stiff competition especially after the Basra provincial council was reduced from 35 seats to 23 following a change to the electoral law. 

Iraq joblessness ‘problem for economy’

World Bank statistics show that Iraq had an unemployment rate of 15.5% in 2022.

Ministry of Planning Spokesperson Abdu Zahra Al-Hindawi told The New Region in an interview on December 7 that unemployment in Iraq is severely affecting economic growth, noting that economic growth is essential to achieve development targets. 

While a late 2021 survey found that unemployment in Iraq was at 16.5%, the situation at that time was different due to oil prices and repercussions of the COVID pandemic especially and it has improved since then, he noted.

“We are awaiting the results of an economic and social survey of living conditions in Iraq,” Hindawi added. “The first phase of this survey, which we began conducting in mid-2023, will end at the end of the year.”

The second phase will last from the beginning of 2024 to the end of June, he added. 

When they receive the results, he said, “we will have new, updated indicators of the poverty rate in provinces that are poorer in terms of services offered to those living in them. The current official poverty level – which dates back several years – is at 20.5% but it has improved” since the data was collected for the last survey.

“Measures taken by the government this year to expand the social protection network as well as increase in ration cards, education and healthcare certainly contributed to clearly reducing poverty rates in Iraq,” he added. 

The age group with the highest level of unemployment in Iraq is that of men and women between the age of 18 and 25, he stressed, as many are still seeking employment after only recently graduating. The rate for this age group was over 20% according to the last survey carried out by the ministry in 2021, he said.

Basra bulldozes greenery for games galore

Although there was a great deal of disappointment sparked by the alleged “exploitation” of voters in exchange for jobs at Basra Mall, the bulldozing of one of the largest green spaces in a famous Basra park in the southern part of the city center was arguably worse, local residents say.

The former park is now a mall and a business complex. 

According to a promotional website, the mall is “the largest in Iraq and one of the largest malls in the Middle East”. 

It added that the mall was built “on an area of 190,000 square meters” and “includes green spaces with an area of 65% of the project area, parking lots for more than 4,000 cars, and a closed games city that is the largest in the Middle East”.  

Basra Investment Authority chief Alaa Abdul Hussein was quoted by local media in 2022 as saying that the project would create over 40,000 jobs.

However, in a city suffering from severe desertification in a country that the UN has said is the fifth most vulnerable worldwide to climate change, many have been upset by the loss of the few green areas left – even if this leads to more jobs and places to spend their money in the largest “closed game city” in the region.

Profile picture of Nagham Makki
Author Nagham Makki

Nagham Makki is an Iraqi journalist from Basra focusing on social and environmental issues.

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