Iraq's youth faces grim future: 250K annual graduates, 2024 budget lacks jobs

Iraq's youth faces grim future: 250K annual graduates, 2024 budget lacks jobs

Shafaq News/ Hundreds of thousands of students graduate from universities and colleges in Iraq each year, joining the job market. However, the 2024 budget doesn't have enough jobs for these graduates and others seeking work, with the private sector struggling to hire.

According to a recent government survey, the country faces a high unemployment rate of 16.5%.

Unemployment is worse for women, who have twice the rate of men, and it's higher in rural areas compared to cities, as highlighted by Ministry of Planning spokesperson Abdul Zahra Al-Hindawi.

While male unemployment hovers around 12 to 13%, female unemployment surpasses 20%.

Speaking to Shafaq News Agency, Al-Hindawi explained the government's employment strategy, stating that it can't hire more in state institutions.

"The government can no longer increase employment within state institutions. The current focus is on developing the private sector, which requires a series of measures, legislation, regulations, and laws to govern its operations," said Al-Hindawi.

He emphasized focusing on developing the private sector and activating the Private Sector Development Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to shape policies and implementation aided by recent legislation like the Social Security Law.

Meanwhile, Iraq sees a rising number of graduates, increasing unemployment. Graduate Mujtaba Mohammed from Baghdad sees employment as crucial after years of study.

"Scrapping appointments in the 2024 budget is a wrong step, pushing graduates towards unrelated freelance jobs," Mohammed told Shafaq News Agency.

Iraq has over four million government employees across state departments and institutions.

However, more than nine million individuals receive salaries from the government, including retirees, families of martyrs and missing persons, social welfare beneficiaries, and political prisoners.

Economic researcher Omar Al-Halbousi blames the absence of job appointments in the 2024 budget on the bloated government workforce, leading to hefty salary burdens.

"The absence of job appointments in the 2024 budget is attributed to the inflated number of employees in the government sector, leading to a burden on the budget with substantial salaries," Al-Halbousi told Shafaq News.

"This has turned the budget into a salary-centric one due to increased operational spending and reduced investment spending," he added.

Al-Halbousi pointed out that successive governments since 2003 should have focused on boosting the private sector and investment to create jobs for graduates and youth.

However, regional interventions, notably from Iran and Turkiye, have hindered progress in all sectors, leaving Iraq economically vulnerable due to a lack of sovereignty in decision-making.

Al-Halbousi warned that continued neglect of industries and investment and high unemployment pose serious economic, social, and security risks.

"Continuing to destroy what remains of the industrial and agricultural sectors and hindering investment and the private sector will have negative repercussions on Iraq economically, financially, politically, socially, and even security-wise," he said.

"Unemployed youth will become easy targets for terrorist groups, militias, drug traffickers, and organized crime gangs," cautioned Al-Halbousi.

He insisted that the solution lies in revitalizing industrial and agricultural investment to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. Any plan that ignores this, he argues, is a path to economic collapse.

The Iraqi government boosted the total budget for 2024 from 199 trillion dinars to 228 trillion dinars. Planning Minister Mohammed Tameem revealed that the budget deficit for 2024 has risen to 80 trillion dinars, up from 63 trillion dinars.

"While there's no money set aside for new hires, certain positions, like those for higher education graduates, aren't affected by the budget," explained economic expert Diaa Al-Muhsin.

"Around 31,000 positions are allocated under the Food Security Law," he told Shafaq News Agency.

"As for the planned deficit in the previous year's budget, implementation instructions were delayed, and global oil prices surged, leading to a surplus in the 2023 budget," he clarified.

"This surplus, along with the increased oil prices, is being carried over to 2024," reminded Al-Muhsin.

The 2023 budget project amounted to 197.828 trillion dinars (approximately $152.2 billion), with a total deficit of 63 trillion dinars ($48.3 billion). It was based on an oil price of $70 per barrel and an expected daily export of 3.5 million barrels, including 400,000 barrels daily from the Kurdistan Region.

In June 2023, after a series of parliamentary sessions, the Iraqi parliament approved the financial budget for 2023, 2024, and 2025, marking it as the largest budget in the country's history at approximately $153 billion annually.

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