It’s Iraq’s economy, stupid (as well as ISIS)


iraq isis spectatorThe Middle East may be sliding toward a warlord era, with nation-states increasingly struggling to control all their territory and millions living under the rule of emergent local chiefs and movements, Bloomberg reports:

Armed irregular forces hold effective power over growing areas of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya where central government authority barely reaches. Motivated by religious ideology or regional separatism, they have grabbed oil facilities and weapons, imposed taxes or changed school curriculums, and fought each other as well as national armies.

“It is almost like the whole regional order that was built in the 20th century is collapsing,” Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London, said in an interview. “Non-state actors are filling the vacuum.”

Saudi Arabia, which pumps almost $1 billion-worth of crude every day, has expanded spending on jobs and welfare. Elsewhere, where governments are less flush with cash, efforts to rein in the militias and extremist groups will be difficult as long as there are few economic opportunities for Arab youths, said Eckart Woertz, a Persian Gulf specialist at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. The region has the world’s highest rate of youth unemployment, according to the International Labour Organization.

“There is no shortage of angry young men,” Woertz said. “Sectarianism, religious intolerance and conspiracy theories are unfortunately widespread. Islamic State can thrive in such an environment.”

iraq ngosAfter months of political wrangling in Baghdad and advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – also known as IS or ISIS – the Iraqi Parliament finally approved a new, more inclusive government led by a new prime minister, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, in early September, writes Ricky Chen, a Program Assistant for the Middle East & North Africa at the Center for International Private Enterprise.

At a recent roundtable event with Iraqi and U.S. experts, held under the Chatham House Rule, participants expressed cautious optimism over the new government. However, in the uphill battle to confront immediate threats to the country’s security, Iraq’s economic crisis has largely been ignored.

According to one participant, the fact that the new cabinet of ministers included members of Iraq’s various minority groups, and that three leading political rivals – former Prime Ministers Nouri al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi and former parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi – were given posts as vice presidents, was a good sign. ….In an exclusive interview conducted with a former ISIL fighter, he said that young recruits felt compelled to stay and fight because ISIL commanders “spent money, gave us food, clothes, cars and respected us so much that leaving the camp felt like betraying the good deeds of those people.” ISIL reportedly pays its members $400 USD per month, a good wage for Iraq, attracting disgruntled youth across the country and region.

ISIL is the symptom of two larger problems in Iraq – a youth bulge, and poverty. Today, nearly half of the population is under the age of 19 and 18 percent of young people (15-25 years) are unemployed, according to the UNDP. About a quarter of the 31 million people in Iraq live on less than $2.2 a day, the international poverty line, and the 1.8 million refugees and internally displaced people inside Iraq are adding economic burdens to their host communities. ….


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