Oil undermines Iraq’s democracy
Corruption and greed are key issues for restive Iraqis in the run-up to 2014 parliamentary elections
Sectarian politics in Iraq is not the only source of unrest. Protests are hardly a new occurrence, but this year they have turned more violent. In April, the protests centered on the Sunni-minority, which feels increasingly embattled and marginalised by the government. Protests have spread across the country, but the demands are now less about politics, focusing instead on the greed and corruption in Baghdad and lack of services.
The gulf between Iraqis and their elected officials could hardly be wider. While the average citizen struggles on less than $6,000 a year, their representative in parliament takes home an estimated $72,000, along with plenty of other benefits. When a politician retires, they are eligible to receive 80 per cent of their salary, no matter how long they have served.
With the next parliamentary elections due in early 2014, the government has promised to reform its pension system. Whether this is taken seriously is another matter. While making those promises, the response from Nouri al-Maliki’s government to protests over corruption has been typically heavy-handed. When 1,500 demonstrators marched to Baghdad, they were met with batons and live rounds in Nasiriyah.
The problem for Iraqis is simple. Crude oil exports bring in more than $7bn a month for the government, accounting for nearly 90 per cent of its revenues, making the political class more focused on serving the oil industry than the citizenry.
The size of the oil sector is set to increase further. The Integrated National Energy Strategy report, unveiled in June sets out the country’s plans for the oil sector, which, if met, could bring in as much as $6 trillion in revenues over the next couple of decades. This bonanza should bring modernisation and improve the lives of Iraqis, but unless greed and corruption are tackled, it will only enrich the lives of a few.