Iraq is rich in resources, but is still a relatively poor country. It suffers from high unemployment, underemployment, and poverty. This is despite the fact that it has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. The government has massive plans to develop that resource in the next few years, which could make it a major player in the world energy market. At the same time, those same plans could continue the impoverishment of the nation.
Oil dominates all sectors of the Iraqi economy. It accounts for 60% of the GPD, 99% of imports, and 90% of government revenue. That makes Iraq the most oil dependent country in the region. Iraq has 143 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves, and could have as much as 200 billion. The bulk of those assets are in six major oil fields in southern Iraq. Rumaila has 35.75 billion barrels in reserves, West Qurna 1 15.6 billion, Majnoon has 14.8 billion, West Qurna 2 has 12.4 billion, Zubair 6.75 billion, and Halfaya 4.0 billion barrels. Currently, the country produces around 2.6 million barrels a day, and exports just over 2 million barrels. In 2009, the government held two bidding rounds to allow foreign companies to return to the industry after being shut out for almost two decades, because of international sanctions. As a result of their work, the Oil Ministry has plans to boost sales to 2.75 million barrels by next year. Ultimately, it wants to achieve 12 million barrels a day in capacity in seven years, although the ability to do that is widely questioned. Oil Minister Abdul Karim Luaibi now thinks 8 million barrels a day in capacity is more realistic, while analysts think that it may achieve 6-7 million barrels. Whatever the actual number proves to be, Iraq can be expected to see a dramatic increase in its profits from around $75 billion currently, to possibly $150 billion by 2016 if prices remain over $100 per barrel of petroleum. If achieved, that would make Iraq one of the largest oil producers in the world. That would give it great influence in OPEC, and over world energy policy. At the same time, it would make the country even more dependent upon petroleum.
The oil industry, as currently structured, distorts the rest of the economy to the detriment of the population. First, large oil revenues lessons the drive to diversify the economy. Iraqi politicians have constantly talked about reforming the economy, promoting the private sector, and encouraging new businesses. Those plans have been mostly just words. Baghdad could use its oil money to fuel the expansion of the private sector, but since the government earns so much off of petroleum, it has largely focused just upon that sole industry, and neglected the rest of the economy. Government regulations on companies for example, are time consuming and costly, and are the main reason why the World Bank has ranked Iraq one of the worst places to do business over the law few years. Baghdad has done little to nothing to improve this environment. This is one factor accounting for the high unemployment rate, because while oil generates large profits, it only accounts for 1% of Iraqi jobs. Second, oil revenues have increased the exchange rate for the Iraqi dinar. That makes it harder to export non-oil products, because they are more expensive, while making it easier to purchase imports. Cheap foreign goods have flooded the country since the 2003 invasion, to the detriment of many Iraqi businesses. This is another reason why the economy is not producing enough jobs to employ the growing population, and reduce poverty. Third, Baghdad has tried to make up for the first two problems by employing a large public sector. Since the Baath Party days, Iraq has had a semi-socialist economic system. That makes the government the largest employer in the country. It employs 43% of all workers, provides almost 60% of full-time work, and 70% of income in the country is linked to the government. Many of these jobs are useless, and act more as a form of welfare than productive work. In state-run companies for instance, it’s normal for them to be staffed ten times more than is needed. The number of public employees has also doubled since 2005, giving Iraq one of the largest public sectors in the world as a percentage of population. That takes a huge part of the annual budget to pay for salaries and pensions. Not only that, but it pushes out private sector job creation. Government jobs are far more stable, and pay more than private ones. That leads to people to search for jobs in the civil service, rather than with businesses. Last, oil brings in more money than the government can effectively manage. Baghdad has signed a number of huge deals to build power plants to boost electricity output, but few of these have come to fruition, because the country lacks the bureaucrats to manage them, and the banking acumen to manage them. Each year the government also ends up with a sizeable budget surplus, because it cannot effectively invest its funds. All of these trends will increase when Iraq expands its oil sector. The government will get even more money, which it will pump into public jobs to make up for the fact that it has a small private sector that it is not supporting. That will distort the labor market, and continue with the high poverty rates.
|(Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit)|
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