Political rows, insecurity and lack of data hinder development efforts


Manal J. Putros Behnam
Iraqi Al Amal Association

During the last 10 years, Iraq has undergone dramatic changes of rulers, but the much-expected transition to democracy failed to pave the way for development. Political disputes, security challenges, and corruption have hindered the stability required for development. Quality of life has fallen: poverty stays firmly, the educational system draws back and women are becoming more and more vulnerable. The inequities persist between cities and rural areas and between men and women. Although the government issued in 2009 a strategy for poverty reduction, the efforts, resources and following-up have not been enough to see noticeable results on the ground.

To get on the right track, the Iraqi government must conduct the census that has been delayed since in 2007, to collect reliable information for the design of comprehensive, effective and appropriately funded development plans.

Poverty, a multidimensional phenomenon

Iraq is not a poor nation, but much of its population suffers poverty. The standard of living of this middle-income country declined over the last 25 years. There is a wide gap between the economics at a national level and the social reality experienced by Iraqi citizens. Anyway, the gross domestic product per person declined by a third between 1980 and 2006, from about USD 3,000 to USD 2,000, according to the World Bank. But the most “striking” data “is not just the decline, but also that reversal in growth stands in contrast to every other country in the Middle East and North Africa region,” remarks the World Bank report “Confronting poverty in Iraq”. As an example of this fall, the study also notes that “primary school enrollment, an area in which Iraq once led the region, declined over the past 25 years in Iraq while rising in every other countries of the region.”

The National Strategy for Poverty Reduction (NSPRI) issued in 2009 at the same time of the National Development Plan covers crucial points of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and is aimed to promote the well-being of the Iraqi poor, with the general goal of reducing poverty rate from the current 22.9% to 16% in 2014 by achieving the following six basic outcomes:

1. Achieving a higher income from work for the poor
2. Improving the health standard of the poor
3. Dissemination and improving education of the poor
4. Achieving a better housing environment for the poor
5. Effective social protection for the poor
6. Less inequality between poor women and men

But the government institutions failed to implement appropriate policies and measures to reach those goals. There were no clear indicators to achieve the required outcomes so government has extended the work in some of these strategies up to 2017.

NSPRI planners stated that although two-third of the population live in cities, half of the poor people reside in rural areas. There are other relevant gaps between governorates, notes the NSPRI: over 40% of the inhabitants of some of them are poor (Muthanna, 49%; Babil, 41%; Salahuddin, 40%), while the proportion falls to 10% in the Kurdistan Region. Disparities in expenditure are lower than disparities in income: the richer quintile of households gets 43% of the total national income and the poorer quintile gets 7%, while the richer households spend 39% of the total expenditure and the poorest spend 9%.

The planners also noted a weak correlation between poverty and unemployment. Poverty rate has reached 39% in rural areas and 16% in urban areas, but unemployment gets to 11% in the countryside and to 12% in the cities. This gap can respond to the links between poverty and low salaries, because of the fact that workers constitute 89% of the labor force in rural areas due to the drop in productivity [1].These figures based on pilot sample survey, the real figures are expected to be higher than that.

Education draws back

One out of five Iraqis between 10 and 49 years old cannot read or write, according to the Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit established by the UN to improve the impact of the humanitarian and development response in Iraq. “Literacy impacts every facet of life”, and affects critically “employment, health, civic participation and social attitudes,” reads a report issued by the Unit in 2010.

In this matter there are also “significant disparities” between women and men (24% to 11%) and between rural and urban areas (25% to 14%), and in the countryside the gender gap is even wider [2] . Further, these figures could be doubled as did not include the percentage of people who cannot read and write easily, according to Iraqi Alamal Association in 2010(Survey to non formal education assessment in Iraq).

Decades of wars and years of humiliating blockade(1990-2003)against Iraqi citizen (not against the Saddam Hussein’s regime), followed after that for the persistent political instability, insecurity(especially displacement) , low standards of living and corruption have made up an accumulated process of decline that feeds illiteracy.

UN agencies and the government run various programs to promote literacy among children, young and adult persons, as well as other schemes that offer training for working and life skills. But those programs need following up and sustained support from the Iraqi educational institutions to achieve a visible decline in illiteracy rates. Local NGOs have also implemented many programs all over Iraq, but they are pilot projects, poorly funded or lacking of a proper networking.

 Women’s vulnerability increases

As a result of the wars fought by the former regime and what followed aftermath after the 2003 terrorist attacks, violence and displacement, the number of women who lost their breadwinner, either to imprisonment or loss, the percentage hitting, according to the report of the Ministry of Human Rights on the situation of Iraqi women to 10.7% of the proportion of households headed by women in Iraq . In addition the labor market indicated in the Iraq- Knowledge Network Report 2011(IKN) decrease in women’s participation in period 2003 to 2011, from 14.2% to 13% which show low participation for women in the economic activities. 

The statistics of government institutions, international agencies and civil society organizations defer. This unclearness makes the national census a very important task to evaluate women’s conditions of living. The International Organization for Migration confirmed in 2011 critical situations related to the access to work, food security, and housing conditions which make women headed households vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit [3]  stated in 2012 that early marriages “remain prevalent”, although they are illegal under 15 years of age and require special authorization from a judge between 15 and 18. But many girls between 11 and 15 years of age enter into marriages outside the court in religious communities. According to the integrated survey social and health conditions for Iraqi women 2011 (I Wish) , indicated that the children girls married under 15 years is 5% and children girls married under 18 years is 22%.Those girls sink into an illegal status that deprives them of education and health. On the other hand, tribal leaders justify the usual practice of forced marriages on traditional and cultural grounds.

Key information remains unknown

The lack of reliable information about the living conditions of the population put a brake on the development process, but the national census has been postponed four times since 2007 under the pretext of security concerns. The powerful political blocs have been delaying indefinitely the survey, although it is required by the article 140 of the Constitution to reach a settlement over the internal dispute areas, this will affect state budget allocations and the impact on provincial level quotas as well.

 In any case, the delay has prevented to reach an accurate assessment of the numbers of orphans and widows who need urgent help. Even so, there is no date scheduled for conducting the survey [4] ,

 Although all the technical and logistics preparation completed with spend large sums of money, but census stopped by a political will.

The scourge of financial and administrative corruption in Iraq is a critical issue to be highlighted as it is demolishing the rebuilding process and development, although there is a national strategy to combat corruption but still needs to be in harmony with the changes in social and political circumstances and the international standards.


In order to get on the right track towards achieving sustainable development, Iraq must focus in the following tasks in the short term:

- At the political level, the government institutions should design and put into practice comprehensive and smart policies to reduce poverty, improve the educational system and empower women. It is also needed to allocate appropriate budgetary resources to the development programs.

- The authorities must fight against corruption using well planned strategies.

- The census should be held as soon as possible, and its planners must set out specific questions to collect useful information for the design of development plans.

- Civil society must participate in the design of policies and strategies and be engaged in their implementation and following-up.


[1] National Strategy for poverty Reduction,2009

[2] Literacy in Iraq, Fact Sheet, 2010

[3] Women In Iraq, Fact sheet 2011

[4] http://musingsoniraq.blogspot.com/2010/12/iraqs-census-put-off-again-for-fourth.html

the reality of Iraqi women since 2003 - Ministry of Human Rights for the year 2012

Men and women in Iraq - statistics development- Central Statistical Organization- Iraq

Central Statistical Organization- Iraq