Iraqi Kur­dis­tan strug­gles to re­build tat­tered econ­omy

Lo­cal econ­omy and ties with Bagh­dad in fo­cus as the oil-re­gion goes to polls to­day

The Gulf Today - - MIDDLE EAST -

SULAIMANIYAH: The oil-rich Iraqi re­gion of Kur­dis­tan is strug­gling to re­build its econ­omy, a year af­ter an ill-fated in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum that Bagh­dad deemed il­le­gal.

A mas­sive yes vote in the Sep­tem­ber 2017 plebiscite pro­voked a fu­ri­ous back­lash by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, turn­ing a long-cher­ished dream of the Kurds into an eco­nomic night­mare.

Fed­eral forces re­took oilields, de­priv­ing the moun­tain­ous north­ern en­clave of its eco­nomic lifeblood, while Bagh­dad also im­posed a six-month air block­ade.

And in an­other blow, Iraq’s par­lia­ment in March passed a bud­get that saw Kur­dis­tan’s slice of the fed­eral cake drop from 17 per cent to less than 13 per cent.

Out­ma­noeu­vred, Kur­dish law­mak­ers boy­cotted the vote.

But the Kurds are now gear­ing up for an­other poll; an elec­tion on Sun­day for the re­gional par­lia­ment.

The lo­cal econ­omy — and re­la­tions with Bagh­dad — top the agenda.

Rawa Burhan, 20, in­tends to vote. He hopes that the new par­lia­ment and fu­ture gov­ern­ment of Kur­dis­tan “will open a new page in re­la­tions with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment.”

Burhan said Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties must “ne­go­ti­ate a (new) bud­get (with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment) in order to end the suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple.”

He said his par­ents, both state em­ploy­ees, have seen their com­bined monthly in­come of around $1,700 (1,470 euros) drop to $800, due to the eco­nomic hard­ships that have hit the re­gion.

Sa­man Qader, who has worked for Kur­dis­tan’s min­istry of elec­tric­ity for 15 years, has seen his pay­check shrink from nearly $500 a month to $300.

The 51-year-old fa­ther of four said try­ing to make it to the end of the month is a real bat­tle as he strug­gles to pay his bills, med­i­cal costs for his sick wife and school and univer­sity fees for his chil­dren.

“At the on­set of 2017, the eco­nomic cri­sis was a catas­tro­phe,” said Adel Bakawan, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Kur­dis­tan Cen­tre for So­ci­ol­ogy at the So­ran Univer­sity near the Iraqi Kur­dish cap­i­tal of Ar­bil.

“Civil ser­vants, who rep­re­sent 60 per cent of the ac­tive work­force, saw their salaries halved. For some the salaries dropped by 75 per cent,” he said.

This sparked demon­stra­tions while in­vestors “mas­sively pulled back and thou­sands of in­vest­ment projects were shelved.”

Bakawan said the pro­por­tion of peo­ple liv­ing in poverty in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan rose to 15 per cent.

Reuters

Kur­dish peo­ple are seen in­side a mar­ket in the old city of Er­bil on Satur­day.

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