SULAIMANI (ESTA) — In the province of Basra, the oil flows freely but little of the wealth trickles down to the people.
Basra province produces about 70 percent of crude oil in Iraq, the second biggest exporter in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia.
Yet the province is hit especially hard by many of the problems plaguing Iraq, which is still seeking to recover from years of war and turmoil since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Unemployment in Basra affects 20 to 25 percent of the people and almost 30 percent of youth, AFP cited economist Barik Schuber as saying in the absence of official figures.
This compares to a national rate of 13.7 percent, according to World Bank figures.
Sajad, 17, told AFP that he “has no future” and no present, saying he just survives, a living emblem of the city’s maladies.
“I don’t see a future here, I want to go to Baghdad,” he said, sitting on the shores of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet.
Deputy governor of Basra, Dorgham al-Jawdi, conceded that the people “are angry”, blaming the central government for the inequitable distribution of the federal budget.
“In 2021, the Iraqi budget is about 130 trillion Iraqi dinars ($89 billion), but for Basra it’s less than one trillion,” AFP quoted him as saying.
“It is maybe 0.7 percent of the total budget, while more than 108 trillion come from Basra.”
Basra resident Mortada, however, said it was not Baghdad that’s to blame but rather the local authorities.
The province was a hotbed of massive protests in mid-2018, a precursor to the near-nationwide protests that rocked the country from October 2019.
Anger erupted in Basra over corruption, poor public services, above all, the influence of neighboring Iran, whose local consulate was set ablaze.
In Basra, some accuse “groups loyal to Tehran” of wielding harmful influence and of infiltrating economic fabric.
But according to Mac Skeleton, executive director of the Institute of Regional and International Studies based in the Kurdistan Region, jobs in Basra’s petrol industry are handed out through nepotism.
“Each of the major Shia majority parties are competing over the Basra oil company, they’re competing over the security contracts in the oil fields, for different assets,” he told AFP.
But “connections” are necessary for a way in, he said, adding that “at the end of the day there is a kind of limit to how many people can benefit from these different spheres of power”.