Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently went on a short tour of southern Iraq to drum up support in anticipation of the January 2010 parliamentary elections. First he went to Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, on September 10, 2009. He then went to neighboring Dhi Qar province on September 14. Maliki’s State of Law List won both governorates in the 2009 vote, and control of the south is crucial in the Prime Minister’s re-election campaign.
During his visits Maliki gave speeches and talked with local officials about one of his main campaign themes, the provision of services. In Basra he berated the governor and provincial council for not improving water and electricity. Back in June the head of Basra’s reconstruction committee said that the province was short 97 billion Iraqi dinars to pay for projects. The province is also currently suffering from the effects of the drought with seawater from the Persian Gulf encroaching into fresh water areas. So far 5,000 villagers have left their homes because of the water crisis. In response, the day before Maliki arrived in Basra City, Baghdad transferred 208 billion dinars to the province to help with expenses, promised a $20 million water pipeline project to deliver fresh water, and announced $25 million to develop the area’s marshes. While in Dhi Qar he promised that the province would get its fair share of the budget, and said with improvements in the economy they could expect more money as well.
When Maliki’s State of Law list ran in the 2009 provincial elections they promised better governance and services, and are doing the same for the 2010 national ballot. This completely ignores the financial situation in Iraq. With the world recession the country’s main source of revenue, oil, took a precipitous drop in value. The 2009 budget saw large cuts as a result, with Iraq’s 18 provinces receiving a $1,748.2 million decrease in their capital budgets that pays for infrastructure and investment, while operational costs that go towards salaries, pensions, etc. ate up 80% of the overall budget. Oil prices have begun to creep back up, but so far, not enough to make a large increase in the 2010 budget. Maliki therefore, can talk to governors and provincial councils all he wants about better services, but there is simply no money to make that a reality right now.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Al-Maliki pays surprise visit to Thi-Qar,” 9/14/09
- “Minister says govt. unable to cover projects, eyes private sector,” 9/3/09
- “New financial amounts allocated for Basra,” 9/9/09
- “PM arrives in Basra,” 9/10/09
Chon, Gina, “Biden, on Iraq Trip, Will Meet Maliki,” Wall Street Journal, 9/16/09
Chulov, Martin, “Surge of seawater drives Iraqis from their homes in the south,” Guardian, 9/11/09
IraqSlogger.com, “Basra: Moritorium on New Development Projects,” 6/3/09
News Network Nasiriyah, “During a meeting with the masses of Dhi Qar,” 9/14/09