International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIII No. 3 (July-September 1998)


Rehabilitation Prospects for the Iraqi Economy *
By Kamil Mahdi


A decade of war followed by a major air campaign against the country’s infrastructure and eight years of severe and comprehensive sanctions have devastated Iraq’s economy. Lost production and diversion of resources to military activities are far from being the only economic costs. Accumulated effects on society include the loss of life, physical impairment, breakdown of societal institutions, declining morale, emigration, and all the associated haemorrhage of skills and intellectual capabilities. The effects of induced technological backwardness, of destruction and accelerated degradation of the infrastructure, and of the increased environmental damage of short-term palliative solutions must also be mentioned.

The objective here is not to present a taxonomy and calculation of costs, but to take account of important factors for the future. A full assessment of the rehabilitation prospects of the Iraqi economy is a task that is well beyond this article. The article limits itself to considering the conditions that would restore underlying stability and balance in the macroeconomy and ensure a high level of resource utilisation and productive operations in existing economic activities.

“Rehabilitation” is defined here as a reversal of the process of decline, through the utilisation of existing production capacities and reintroduction of capital accumulation, the reinvigoration of economic agents, the restoration of a measure of efficiency to markets, the preservation and development of skills, the rebuilding of key elements of the physical infrastructure and maintenance of existing facilities, and the achievement of balance, stability and a process of growth. This definition stems from a view that the economy during the 1990s has been undergoing a process of fragmentation and disintegration—a gradual and slow process that continues to draw down accumulated capital assets and deplete natural resources. Throughout this prolonged process, the economy and society are shedding resources, institutions and skills which are needed for any rapid recovery.

This article will survey the present state of the Iraqi economy. On macro-economic aspects, it will consider inflation, public finance and the external sector, including the burdens of debt and reparations. It will also address the mechanisms of the economy’s operation under sanctions. An appreciation of the responses to sanctions and the government’s policy options will help understand the behaviour under changed economic circumstances.

The article will also review key sectors including oil, manufacturing and agriculture. It will discuss how these sectors have been affected by the war and sanctions and their prospects under present conditions. Shifts in the structure of economic activities and of employment will also be highlighted. The transformation of the role of the state in the economy will be considered for its current and long-term consequences. Reference will be made to probable changes in behavioural characteristics such as rent-seeking, attitude to risk and time frames. Scenarios for the relaxation of sanctions and policy options for Iraq will then be explored.


Economic, Political and Institutional Background

Structural, environmental and political factors have long had a distorting effect upon Iraq’s economy. The following are some of the most important factors:

The above factors had shaped the structure and performance of the Iraqi economy prior to Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. By most macro and micro measures of performance, Iraq’s economy had already fared badly before the sanctions. It is likely that optimistic assessments of future prospects for the country 1 rested upon the long-term value of its natural resources and upon assessments of its strategic position rather than on economic performance. This was reflected in the reluctance of private financial institutions to make their credit facilities available to Iraq during the 1980s when governments and official credit guarantee agencies were eager to finance the trade and contracts of their nationals. 2

Iraq’s development effort had already suffered serious setbacks due to the war with Iran and to imprudent policies adopted during the early years. Medium-term planning gave way in the 1980s to annual investment programmes in which projects of strategic and political value came to predominate. Development programmes were drastically curtailed as the war dragged on. 3 The Iraq-Iran war also accentuated regional imbalances inside the country as particular regions were devastated or neglected, and as residual development activities were relocated into strategic heartlands or otherwise safer areas. Attempts to regenerate the development and reconstruction efforts met with difficulty both in the public and private sectors. Between 1984-85 and 1988-89, government consumption and gross national investment declined annually in real terms by an average of 3 percent and 4 percent respectively, and the real value of private consumption remained stagnant during the same period. Per capita consumption and investment declined even more rapidly while the country’s international debt burden soared.

The deterioration in macroeconomic conditions took place despite a rise in Iraqi oil revenues during the second half of the 1980s. Until 1990, Iraq was able to compensate for the decline in oil prices by increasing its export volumes and recovering more of the market share it had lost at the start of the Iraq-Iran war. 4 Prospects were already poor in 1990, as oil output was close to full capacity during the early part of the year and oil prices were declining sharply. 5 Another cause for concern was the high proportion of foreign debt approaching maturity, making the country’s financial position precarious. By 1990, Iraq’s oil industry had lost markets and relative positions, the state of the macroeconomy was seriously out of balance, and key economic sectors were stagnant and heavily reliant on government subsidies and market protection. Attempts to reform the economy with a sharp switch to privatisation, exposure to market discipline and a removal of implicit subsidies, resulted in stagflation. 6 The value of the Iraqi dinar in the tolerated parallel market fell quickly, fueled inflation, disrupted trade and damaged business confidence. The government was ill-equipped to manage the transition. It lacked the resources to meet its commitments, let alone to sustain a state-led reconstruction and development strategy. Armed forces demobilisation after a long war required an unsustainable level of economic growth to reabsorb conscripts back into civilian employment. A rapid reduction in the numbers of expatriate workers was incompatible with a post-war construction drive. Iraq’s development was disrupted, and particular regions endured especially harsh conditions. In certain respects, the skills and organisation of the war effort could be turned towards major civilian objectives, but that was only done in limited areas of physical reconstruction. At the same time, expectations were raised of a rapid return to prosperity.


Invasion of Kuwait, Sanctions and War

It is difficult to make a full and accurate assessment of Iraq’s economy in August 1990. Many macroeconomic indicators are not published, but several factors indicated the gravity of the situation. These include the level and term structure of the external debt; the oil market and the state of the country’s oil sector; accelerating inflation; the state of industry and agriculture, including stagnation and declining employment opportunities in these two sectors; a large and cumbersome bureaucracy and a politicised civil service; inefficient or non-existent markets especially for capital and labour; a continuing heavy military burden; regional imbalances and urban concentration; a highly skewed income distribution; serious social and political problems; a lack of economic policy credibility; declining per capita income, consumption and investment. Although no budget figures are available, the government budget deficit probably continued to be high, as the options for financing it were narrowing.


The 1991 war and the sanctions came at a particularly difficult time for Iraq. Their consequences are reflected in the drastic and immediate decline in the standard of living. Leaving aside the war, civil strife and its internal repression, and the immediate aftermath of war-related paralysis, the impact of sanctions has continued to be devastating and cumulative. The sanctions have brought about a definitive reduction in income levels, and set the economy on a further downward spiral.

The main direct economic effect of sanctions has been the disruption and almost complete halt in Iraqi oil exports and consequently, severe constraints upon imports. In effect, the wider trade ban under Security Council Resolution 661 in August 1991 has been of secondary importance to the oil embargo. The oil embargo alone has been effective, easy to administer and, given the state of Iraq’s finances, totally and immediately devastating. Indeed, before 1990, the value of Iraq’s exports other than crude oil amounted, in total, to no more than 4 percent of the value of the country’s imports. 7

The comprehensive nature of the sanctions, however, is also important for several reasons. 1) There has been the additional, albeit small, effect on trade restriction; 2) It has increased the costs of business, and prevents Iraq from developing new activities to compensate for the oil embargo; 3) It has prevented major corporations and states from conducting business including investment that could assist Iraq in small, but crucial ways; 4) It has disrupted financial transactions other than trade, including private financial transfers. Consequently, a very limited range of economic adjustment options are open to Iraq, and the regeneration of the economy must await the further easing or lifting of sanctions.

Limited Alternative Options

While a certain amount of trade goes on across Iraq’s borders, as is evident from the availability of a range of commodities on Iraqi markets, the sanctions are undoubtedly effective and will continue to be so, barring any major and dramatic political changes. The road tanker traffic to Jordan is the only export trade permitted under the sanctions outside of the Food-for-Oil arrangement which came into effect in December 1996. However, even the Jordanian trade is conducted on highly disadvantageous terms for Iraq, and is occasionally threatened by political differences. 8

Unauthorised trade of oil across Iraq’s frontiers is small, uncertain and costly. Turkish truck drivers take advantage of the price difference across the border, and up to 3,000 vehicles including hundreds of tankers cross the border every day and carry quantities of diesel and fuel oil back to Turkey, providing income to the Iraqi government which supplies the products, the Kurdish party administration which controls the route, and the local Turkish economy across the border. 9 This and a barge trade in fuel oil across Iranian territorial waters make up most of Iraq’s exports outside the Food-for-Oil deal.

There are also small non-oil exports circumventing sanctions, but these are marginal, and have considerable costs for the country in the long term. Examples of such exports are livestock and articles of value such as jewellery, but also some industrial products for which the domestic price under depressed conditions does not cover long-term costs, including those of depreciating capital assets. There are also illicit exports of art, antiques and archaeological objects, but it would be impossible to make a meaningful estimate of these or to assess how much is related to import finance and how much to capital flight. Given Iraq’s long stagnant livestock sector, the extensive industrial disruption, and the prolonged period of disinvestment in personal assets, 10 it is unlikely that any of these activities offer more than survival strategies and temporary relief for the majority of those engaged in them. Small and unsustainable, they form part of a range of strategies adopted by individuals, the central government and the ruling parties in the northern Kurdish region involving varying degrees of disinvestment, sometimes including sale of machinery and equipment, to meet short-term requirements. 11 Given the illicit nature of some of this trade, it would be wrong to imply reliability in available trade figures.

What can be said with confidence, is that Iraq’s external trade sector will continue to be dependent upon the ability to export oil.


The Domestic Impact of the Oil Embargo

The magnitude of the shock of sanctions was so great that most of the economy moved from stagnation into sharp decline. The drastic curtailment of crude oil sector activity meant that the subsequent bombardment of installations had no apparent practical effect on the level of activity due to redundant capacity. Only now is the effect of the bombardment beginning to have an effect on output as the volume of sales Iraq is permitted to make is being increased. 12

The decline in oil production has had an impact on the economy in terms of loss of output, collapse of the currency and the effect on the government budget. As regards loss of output, the crude oil sector declined by 83 percent from 3.12 million barrels per day (mbd) during the first half of 1990 to no more than 0.53 mbd mainly for domestic consumption following the embargo after the invasion of Kuwait. The decline in the sector’s value added was more drastic. Measured in terms of the official exchange rate, the contribution of mining and quarrying (mainly oil extraction) was 19 percent of GDP in 1989, declining to 0.7 percent in 1991. Moreover, as Boone, et al point out, when evaluated at the market exchange rate, the oil sector contributed 75 percent of Iraq’s GDP in 1990, giving a much higher measure of the loss of output. 13 The market rate of exchange may overstate the relative position of the oil sector, while use of the overvalued official rate certainly understates it. In all cases, the magnitude of the income shock administered by the imposition and continuation of the sanctions has been considerable. This shock is transmitted to the state budget and the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

Inflation and currency depreciation

The foreign exchange market did not fully reflect the magnitude of the shock during the first year of sanctions. The dinar was already depreciating in the open market prior to the embargo. The rate of depreciation did not accelerate until after some relaxation in the restrictions on imports, allowing food and medicines to be imported under simplified “no objections” arrangements. There may have been two reasons for this. First, since the embargo was initially almost impermeable and affecting imports as well as exports, the demand for foreign currency was curtailed. Second, the embargo was not expected to be prolonged, as many expected the war to resolve some of the major issues which continue to preclude a political settlement.

During that year, the acceleration of inflation can be attributed to two factors: the shortages of goods resulting from the embargo, and the removal of price subsidies on many items over and above the ration system. Subsequently, a more rapid currency depreciation began itself to fuel inflation. Dreze and Gazdar calculated open market food price inflation for the year from August 1990 to have been between 1,546 and 2,004 percent depending upon the assumption made about the composition of the food basket. 14 During the same period, the Iraqi dinar lost 50 percent of its market value against the US dollar, exchanging at a rate of ID 8 in September 1991 compared with ID 4 in August 1990. 15 The official exchange rate remained $3.2 for one dinar. The disparity between the market exchange rate change and the rate of market food price inflation reflected the removal of subsidies, both explicit and implicit, in trade at the overvalued official exchange rate. As a result of the oil embargo, the government downgraded its effort to regulate and control the foreign exchange and commodity markets, and has since had to rely upon them for its own requirements of hard currency and some of its imported goods supplies. As a result, the official exchange rate was in practice abandoned, and traded commodities came to reflect international prices in a way which was previously unknown in Iraq. With the exception of the basic food ration administered in government-controlled areas, there was a gradual “dollarisation” of the economy.

Income levels

Income levels continued to decline. Dreze and Gazdar observed a dramatic decline in earnings as a result of the introduction of sanctions. 16 Basic subsistence for the majority of the population was only attained through access to government rations at nominal prices. In the Kurdish areas outside government control, UN agencies and local and international humanitarian organisations provided a partial safety net for the large numbers of refugees and the destitute.

After initial recovery from the catastrophic conditions of the first half of 1991, economic conditions for the majority of the population started once again to deteriorate. Given the continued stagnation in the urban economy, this deterioration is reflected in living standards and services including health, education, administration and security. Prior to the Food-for-Oil deal, there was also continuing high inflation, increasing government difficulty with providing the basic ration, and declining international commitments to humanitarian assistance. Boone et al reported a drastic decline in wage levels between 1991 (after the war) and 1996. Wages were measured in terms of their wheatflour purchasing power. 17 The decline was across the board for typical occupation categories selected by the researchers, and averaged 56 percent over the whole period. This drastic fall in incomes is over and above the disastrous collapse of 1990-91.

A fragmented and distorted economy

The process of “dollarisation” was not complete and uniform over economic sectors. Imported commodity prices came to reflect changes in the exchange rate almost instantaneously, while the rest of the economy gradually and sometimes only partially adjusted to the exchange rate changes. In other words, there were dramatic changes in relative prices. Some of those relative changes were due to the breakdown of the import tariff system and the scarcity of imported commodities. For a time, the range of commodities available in the market was restricted by government decrees banning the import of all but an approved list of “necessities”. However, the drastic alteration of price signals also relates to other changes in the economy, such as the structural change in the trade and banking sectors, where commerce and foreign transactions have become fewer and public sector-dominated and traditional supply channels have broken down.

Relationships among economic agents also changed when traded goods and all durable commodities with a high foreign content came to be held as a hedge against inflation. At the same time, the market in used durable goods grew rapidly as large sections of the population were forced to disinvest, and as patterns of economic activity altered. With low earned incomes and poor employment opportunities, people have engaged in buying and selling, in petty vending and unregulated service provision. Dreze and Gazdar remarked that the collapse of the economy and the dramatic fall in incomes gave rise to the paradoxical situation in which remaining idle became a luxury few could afford. 18 Under sanctions, much of the Iraq’s urban market activity has been carried out by masses of people engaged in a number of activities simultaneously, often changing occupations, offering non-standard goods and services in an unstable social environment where market participants have vastly divergent bargaining powers and where expectations change radically in response to external events. Given that the value of the Iraqi dinar fluctuated dramatically in its downward slide from 1991 to 1995, prices and wages also fluctuated sharply. It is not surprising that price adjustments tended to be erratic and inconsistent, and that relative prices tended to change dramatically. These are fluid and informal markets characterised by asymmetrical and poor information, especially given the overriding external political factors and the frequent recurrence of crises. Markets are also segmented by structural, institutional, social and political factors which preclude smooth adjustment. The consequent disruption to economic activity has been considerable.

Uncertainty about the future has had particularly serious effects on long-term contracts such as employment, rent, financial and business service arrangements. Parties entering into or terminating such contracts require some stability, while those who stay locked in may make the wrong decisions. In the case of the public sector, uncertainty is compounded by a certain paralysis in economic planning and rational decision-making in the economic sphere. Thus, even though the state’s direct role in economic activity has diminished and the relative scope for the private sector has widened, the operations of product and factor markets have not become less restricted or more efficient.


Government Policy and the Need for Reform

As was the case during the early part of the Iraq-Iran war, government policy after the 1991 war appears to have been based upon the assumption of an early end to conflict and a return to prosperous economic conditions. Unsustainable levels of expenditure were maintained, fueling inflation, driving down the value of the currency and setting off an inflationary spiral. Postwar reconstruction was followed by a number of large political and prestige projects, some of which continue despite a stabilisation programme introduced in November 1995.

The scale of the expenditure and the lack of a rationalisation programme in the public sector has placed much of the burden of reducing inflationary pressures upon pay levels in the sector, which have been kept extremely low. 19 In many cases, public sector employees have found that the cost of travel to work exceeds the salary earned. Some have held on to their jobs, expecting conditions to improve. But with time, the number of these people has diminished, and there are signs that the public sector is dangerously stripped of experienced and skilled professional staff, many of whom have left the country in search of better conditions.

In a recent study by a Food and Agriculture Organisation mission, a dramatic drop in the staff of the State Board for Agricultural Research (SBAR) was revealed. Staff at all levels of professional qualifications were lost during the immediate post-war period, through the first half of the 1990s and, even more dramatically, between 1995 and 1996.

Other information suggests that the case of the SBAR is not atypical. Universities, the health service and public services are generally reported to have lost staff on a dramatic scale. Indeed, agricultural research is an area which has received some government support and where there have been some notable achievements in adverse circumstances, including plant breeding and animal feed preparations. 20 Free public services and the administration have therefore deteriorated, and the practice of unregulated payment to public servants is now widespread. Education, health and municipal services are increasingly affected, and it is said that even justice, taxation and the administration of private property are now hit.

Government policy appears to be task driven with little attention paid to prudent economic management. The specific tasks calling for attention have been: first the supply and organisation of a limited food ration provision; second, reconstruction of war damage; third, the implementation of a number of prestigious and politically-motivated projects, including presidential palaces, marsh drainage schemes and symbolic civil engineering projects. Throughout, military expenditure has remained high. These limited tasks were carried out with technical efficiency but at a high and unsustainable economic cost. Depreciation of capital, haemorrhage of skilled labour, impoverishment of the middle class, depletion of stocks, environmental damage and other consequences, as well as runaway inflation, would all seem to dictate restraint in government expenditure.

Policies for rehabilitation will require a combination of determination to accomplish tasks, prudent restraint and a sophisticated policy package. Such a package must restore rationality in economic management, the credibility of the currency, the confidence of economic agents and the stability of institutional arrangements. This, in turn, requires depoliticising and strengthening the economic administration, rebuilding the capability for policy coordination and tackling monetary, fiscal, price and other distortions in the economy. 21 Failure to do so will have drastic consequences.


The Budget Deficit

Prior to the invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqi economy was straining under serious macro and oil market constraints. The performance of its main commodity sectors (manufacturing and agriculture) was poor and there was little promise of an early return to growth and revenue potential. 22 A welfare programme including food and other subsidies, education, health and social services, pension provisions and other support were all to be provided on a very narrow public revenue base. The privatisation programme may have been part of an attempt to shed subsidy and social commitments which the state was no longer able to sustain. But the proceeds from privatisation were low. 23 Figures for the government’s budget have not been made available for many years, but published budget outlines showed a substantial deficit back in the early 1980s. 24 It is likely that reconstruction, development and military expenditure had continued to demand deficit financing on the eve of the Kuwait crisis. Oil revenues had reached an expected peak and begun to decline as prices fell in 1990. Policy decisions taken during the 1970s oil boom had already narrowed the tax base. Furthermore, as imports of durable consumer goods declined after the early 1980s and as the parallel market exchange rate began to predominate in external transactions, the scope for increasing revenues from import duties was also curtailed. The burden of a decade of war had been postponed by earlier accumulated surpluses and a build-up of debt. The war with Iran ended with the economy in difficulty and debts maturing. The government’s ability to raise indirect taxes was limited by the stagnant trade and material commodity sectors and by already declining levels of living.

The annual average of indirect taxes during 1984-86 was ID 766.3 million, rising to ID 798.0 during 1987-89. Between the same two periods, government subsidies increased, also in current price terms, from an average of ID 344.8 million to ID 384.7 million per year. 25

In 1989, government consumption was ID 5,990.1 million, and public sector gross fixed capital formation was ID 3,744 million; 26 most of the latter would have had to be funded directly from the state budget rather than from the surpluses of public corporations. The combined total of the operating surpluses of public corporations, direct taxes and other internal revenue sources is unlikely to have met the cost of public sector capital formation, while oil revenues fell well short of the requirements of financing government consumption. As a very rough estimate, the budget deficit may be said to have been somewhere in the region of 10 percent of GDP excluding interest and repayments on foreign debt, with oil revenues measured at the official exchange rate. 27 In depriving the economy of oil revenues, sanctions have had an impact on the budget which has probably been even greater than the approximate figure of 18 percent of GDP which these revenues represented in 1989. 28 Furthermore, the devastating impact of the 1991 war and the continuation of sanctions on industry and trade would certainly have reduced other government revenues including public enterprise income and indirect taxes. The sharp decline in GDP in itself would raise the relative size of the deficit. The collapse in the value of the Iraqi dinar and the onset of hyperinflation forced the government to compensate by increasing the nominal value of its expenditure just as revenue sources were declining. Deficit financing continued to fuel inflation until strict fiscal measures were implemented late in 1995, followed by the Food-for-Oil deal.

The magnitude of the shock of sanctions has been so great that the deficit was inevitably going to be very large. Again using rough national account estimates, we may conclude that the deficit was in the region of 30 percent or more of GDP in 1993 29 —this despite a sharp fall in the government’s share in GDP (from 55.3 percent in 1989 to 13.6 percent in 1992 30 ) and despite the destitution of the vast majority of civil servants, pensioners and military personnel who, combined, total nearly 2 million and represent, with their dependents, one third of the population. It can therefore be seen that the priority given to food and military security, and initially also to reconstruction of war damage, has had very heavy welfare costs, not all of which can be justified. In addition to the squeeze on civilian public sector pay, education, health, pensions, social services, public administration and regulatory activities, and even civilian policing, have all been neglected. The collapse in services has been well documented elsewhere. 31 Nonetheless, the budget deficit has grown and continued to perpetuate itself, as agriculture, the main productive sector benefiting from the deficit has not been generating revenue, but has itself been a direct recipient of subsidies. Revenue raising capacities and resources have to be found to help deal with the budget deficit. The obvious source when the embargo is lifted is oil. In the meantime, some important, but politically difficult measures could be taken. These would have to challenge vested interests which have thrived under war and sanctions. However, it can be argued that in building palaces and prestigious projects, the regime is not only contributing to the budget deficit, but also signaling retrenchment of its oligarchic character.

The Food-for-Oil deal is designed not to interact with the budget deficit. Indeed, it can be said that the deal relieves immediate suffering and the humanitarian pressure for lifting sanctions, without permitting the regeneration of the economy. The main direct way in which the government budget can benefit is through reduced procurement and/or buying prices of subsidised staple food grain in the domestic market. This would foster dependency upon the continuation of the arrangement and add to the political vulnerability to outside pressure. The government has not taken this option so far. Quite the contrary, the rise in the value of the Iraqi dinar has raised the compulsory purchase price relative to other prices. In other words, the ratio of the deficit to GDP would not have decreased much if at all as a result of the implementation of the deal.

As the value of oil sales increases, and as the arrangement is extended, the agreed import procurement plan will be crucial. Plans which continue to emphasise food imports will be competitive with domestic production and will not increase the production capacity of the economy. The government will be able to shift expenditure away from food, but without complimentary imports and the ability to regenerate production, a high level of government expenditure will continue to be inflationary.


The State of Industry and Agriculture

The industrial sector

Despite the emphasis on industry during the years following the 1970s oil boom, civilian industrial output increased only very modestly between 1978 and 1989. Some major industrial plants sustained heavy damage or were completely destroyed during the early phase of the Iraq-Iran war. 32 Moreover, effort, skills and finance were directed towards developing military industries during the 1980s. The present UN effort is concentrating on destroying “capability” rather than returning or redirecting the potential towards civilian production. The development of private sector industries has been hindered since the nationalisations and strict capitalisation limits of 1964. A consequence of that policy has been the accentuation of the speculative orientation of the private sector in trade and real estate. The policy has inhibited industrial investment, skills and managerial development, and it may have retarded the progress of the state’s monitoring and regulatory functions. The private industrial sector was also deprived of investment finance, as the Industrial Bank offered very limited facilities amounting to 1-2 percent of the total value of industrial investment. Short periods of peacetime boom, as in the mid-1970s, showed that small-scale private industry was capable of very rapid growth under the conducive conditions of a booming economy, ample finance and an adequate infrastructure.

Such conditions were not sustained, however, and industry remained dependent on heavy direct public sector investment. Thus, industrial growth was not only slow during the 1980s, but its pattern was unsuitable for the post-war economic conditions in which employment generation is a major objective, finance has become extremely tight, and market competition in relevant activities increasingly fierce. In fact, employment in civilian manufacturing declined during the 1980s, and the wage bill in large industrial establishments (defined as those employing 30 or more persons) amounted to no more than 10 percent of the value of output. 33 Much of Iraq’s industry is capital intensive, technologically dependent and heavily reliant on imported inputs, making this sector especially vulnerable to trade sanctions. Without substantial investment, it would be difficult for this sector to advance from rehabilitation and recovery to growth.

Despite the privatisation and administrative reforms of the late 1980s, the industrial sector remained divided into a small number of large mainly public sector and capital intensive firms and a myriad of small workshops concentrating mainly on repair and maintenance, and on limited processing and packaging of consumer goods. This dichotomy subjected the manufacturing sector to constraints at both ends leading to a poor overall performance.

Between 1978 and 1989, output of food industries increased by an annual average of 1 percent while the annual growth rate of textile and shoe industries was 3 percent, and the general index number of industrial output increased by less than 4 percent per annum. Only oil and chemicals industries grew rapidly, having benefited from the high capital investments in this sector throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 34 The foregoing figures, which probably exclude military industries, reveal stagnation in consumer goods production and relatively rapid growth in a capital-intensive industrial sector that had benefited from the high public sector investment of earlier years.

The 1991 war resulted in further heavy damage to industrial plants, this time largely to chemical industries and oil refining. The continuing embargo, however, led to a paralysis of the industrial sector. According to Al-Khudayri, Iraq’s manufacturing industry relies on imports for almost 80 percent of its inputs of intermediates, spare parts and components. 35 The effect of the embargo has been devastating, reducing manufacturing value added in 1994 to 23.5 percent of the 1985 level measured in constant 1990 prices. 36 Paralysis is leading to loss of skilled labour and lack of maintenance, especially in many of the larger industries. The dependence of the industrial sector on imported inputs is damaging not only because of the physical shortage of these inputs, but also because of the cost. Small private industries are able to obtain required inputs in contravention of the sanctions, but the cost at the parallel exchange rate frequently means that there is no market for the product. 37 Part of the collapse of manufacturing stems from the general malaise of the economy and the collapse of incomes under sanctions. Regenerating demand in the economy would stimulate the small industrial sector. However, rehabilitating the industrial sector in general requires a broader strategy because of the high investment requirements and the skills shortages that have developed over the past years. 38 This strategy must address the dichotomy of the industrial sector, rehabilitating capacities in both large- and small-scale industries, and in both the public and private sectors. Ultimately, the strategy must encourage growth across the board by changing the general business environment and stimulating investment and resource mobilisation. The industrial sector more than other sectors needs to have a stable and secure environment in order to be fully rehabilitated. The structure of its ownership and management, and its access to skills and capital must be allowed to change. The manufacturing industry also needs to develop export markets and strategic partnerships. Industry’s requirements for capital and technology are unlikely to be satisfied by domestic sources alone, while foreign sources will only flow into the country after political and financial issues are settled.

In the longer term, a proper regulatory framework, clear fiscal rules, a flexible labour market, investment in infrastructure, skills and training, and a healthy macro-environment need to replace many rigid bureaucratic allocation and managerial decisions. In the short term, and while sanctions remain in place, a strategy for rehabilitation must be developed to establish priority industries. Al-Khudayri suggests five criteria for selecting industries for regeneration: 1) importance of the product for the population’s urgent needs; 2) technological level and cost of the production facility; 3) availability of skilled labour; 4) degree of reliance on imported inputs; 5) export potential or linkages with other industries. 39 Evidently, these are not issues to be left to market decisions, and an industrial rehabilitation strategy will have to be developed without losing sight of the need for a long-term policy framework.

The agricultural sector

The performance of the agricultural sector was also weak in 1990. Output had been stagnant for two decades in most areas of agricultural production except vegetables, fruit and poultry, all of which tended to be capital intensive activities concentrated near urban centres and heavily dependent upon a range of industrial inputs and expatriate labour. Production of field crops, dates, red meats and dairy products, all traditional Iraqi farm products had been stagnant despite increased use of modern inputs such as improved seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, vaccines and feed concentrates. Farm incomes were maintained by two factors: a sharp decline in labour requirements and improved terms of trade for agricultural commodities. 40 Iraqi’s rural small and medium-sized farm holding sector which had been boosted by the agrarian reforms, had gone into decline prior to the legal changes favouring capitalist farming and permitting the consolidation of private landholding after 1983. A new capitalist farming sector grew unmatched by the development of an indigenous research and extension infrastructure needed to realise the modern farming potential of Iraq’s resources. The agricultural sector’s weak contribution to employment, output, equitable income distribution and food security, and the sector’s heavy dependence upon industrial inputs placed Iraq in a relatively disadvantageous position under sanctions. 41 Iraq’s dependence upon imported food prior to 1990 was especially high in basic staples, where investment in water storage, irrigation and land reclamation had not resulted in increased output or substantially rising land productivity. The Iraqi economy was thus especially vulnerable to sanctions because of its reliance upon both imported inputs and essential consumer goods, and also because the export ban did almost nothing to divert supplies destined to international markets towards the domestic economy. The vulnerability of the economy had not been lessened by the structural reform and the consolidation of holdings in agriculture during the first half of the 1980s, and the privatisation of manufacturing during the second half. There were also administrative, price and foreign exchange reform measures, forming a part of a major market-oriented package which was rapidly implemented with drastic socio-economic consequences, including accelerated inflation and declining industrial output. 42 The main areas of agricultural output that were stimulated by the reforms were high capital and import-intensive activities such as poultry and fish farming. There was, however, no evidence of sustained growth or increased productivity in the main cereal crops sector until sanctions were introduced.

The government responded to sanctions with a package of measures which included higher procurement prices and stepped up administrative measures, including directives regarding land use. Although procurement prices remained below those obtained in the open market, the differences according to Boone et al, did not represent an onerous level of taxation. 43 However, the 1996 FAO Report and Ahmad considered these procurement prices a disincentive to cereal production. 44 In all cases, official procurement for the ration system is responsible for generating significant additional demand. Without rationing, farm prices could be lower. The question is whether the government should operate a guaranteed procurement price or a compulsory one, and at what level. The government must be able to procure the ration with as small a subsidy as possible and without discouraging production. The procurement system as implemented has been successful in raising production. Whether a different procurement policy could have achieved a similar rise in output at lower financial and environmental cost and with a more equitable result, is another matter. Other questions relate to what might be an appropriate level for compulsory procurement prices and to whether the levels actually applied have been economically and socially optimal. These prices have tended to yield relatively high agricultural earnings even though they remain below free market levels.

A switch to a policy of free markets and targeted subsidies has its formal attractions, but its implementation requires a more stable economic situation and a greater and more flexible institutional capability to ensure effective targeting. In our view the mass destitution of Iraq’s population makes it highly risky to attempt to restructure the ration and procurement policy, and limits the possible benefits of any such change. One of the major problems is that until a stable political and economic environment is established targeting would be very difficult. The vulnerable would not be an identified group, but many people could rapidly descend into it. A public commitment to procurement is also necessary given the continued market instability.

Despite the structural problems which the agricultural sector had developed during the oil period, and notwithstanding serious environmental problems, agriculture remains the mainstay of Iraq’s non-oil economy. Iraq has land and water resources which can be harnessed to provide a substantial measure of food security. Although agricultural land productivity and incomes are low, the present depressed conditions have stimulated a considerable return to the land and increases in the cultivated area, employment, and output of staple foods. This has happened despite a substantial decline in the availability of inputs such as treated and improved seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and farm machinery.

These increases in output must be weighed against the general decline in the stock and output of livestock. Overall, agricultural output may have been sustained and value added increased due to the substitution of labour for manufactured inputs. Agricultural output per capita of the agricultural population may actually be found to have declined if the return migration to rural areas and the increased employment on the land are taken into account.

Although there are positive trends in both output and value added, and although agriculture has provided a basic safety net of income and food production, trends in the agricultural sector do not offer dynamic growth prospects for the longer term. The agricultural sector has not merely reduced its previously excessive capital intensity, but may also have loosened its relations with other sectors of the economy, and reduced its own diversity and the balance between its range of farm activities. The opportunities and benefits of crop rotation and of crop-livestock interaction have been reduced as the advantages of modern inputs and research are being denied farmers.

Some issues of risk and time frames

While agriculture has thrived, it has done so as a result of the shortage of food and the high prices enjoyed by the sector’s products. Agricultural costs have also risen and have tended to make farmers more cautious about investment and input decisions. Delays in repairs to machinery arising from disruption of the market for spare parts have affected economic behaviour. Farm machinery owners are now disinclined to hire out their equipment in case breakdowns leave them unable to tend to their own farms. Similarly, uncertainty about water supplies and the maintenance of irrigation and drainage systems has at times hampered cooperation. Farmers with resources that enable them to overcome the difficulties may be less inclined to cooperate in joint solutions.

There is now much less emphasis upon longer-term management of resources in agriculture than before the sanctions. Marginal agricultural land that is suitable for pasture is now ploughed for a cereal crop, and crop-fallow rotation has all but been discontinued in rainfed areas. The effects on the soil are neglected under the current circumstances in which the government encourages maximum production. Similarly, short-term considerations have led to a considerable expansion in rice cultivation with negative consequences for soil salinity and downstream water resource availability. In the northern Kurdish areas, the cutting of wood for fuel did considerable environmental damage while the government withheld supplies of oil products.

Similarly, safety and environmental considerations are also neglected in industry and other areas of activity. The report of a UN group of experts concerning the status of Iraq’s oil production capacity found that the government was too optimistic about Iraq’s ability to sustain a high level of oil exports, 45 in that the government is prepared to take risks that run against accepted principles of “good oil field husbandry”. The Group also found significant pollution and environmental damage in relation to refining activities. Short-term imperatives and uncertainty about Iraq’s future make it impossible to calculate risk and environmental consequences and to take proper account of them.

In all other areas of economic activity, such as trade, transport and financial transactions, uncertainty has become commonplace. People take much higher risks in their daily economic activities out of necessity. However, it is long-term investment decisions that have been particularly adversely affected. At present, individuals, firms, the government the UN’s economic monitors are all engaged in short-term fixing activities. Shortages throughout the economy have also reinforced rent-seeking behaviour, particularly in urban trade. It will be a major task of any rehabilitation strategy to create the conditions for altering these behaviour patterns, and to attempt to reinforce other attributes such as greater self-reliance, prudence and a more positive attitude towards manual work.


External Debt

Iraq became heavily indebted as a direct consequence of the war with Iran and of poor financial management during the war. Estimates of Iraqi arms purchases during the 1980s vary between US $52 billion and $102 billion. 46 Nevertheless, with Arab and international backing, Iraq was treated as being solvent, and there was no incentive for either side to seek a multilateral debt rescheduling arrangement. Indeed, as Jiyad suggests, some creditors seemed to prefer the bilateral arrangements, a policy which in time led to a deterioration in the terms upon which Iraq acquired new loans in order to meet existing commitments 47 In particular, the Iraqi government was not ready to open its books to international, or for that matter, domestic scrutiny. The Iraqi government had, in effect, adopted standard IMF conditions with the possible exception of fiscal reform, without having gone to the organisation and without negotiating with the Paris Club for multilateral debt arrangements. Consequently, the debt continued to rise while its maturity terms shortened.

According to a government memorandum presented to the United Nations, Iraq’s total foreign debt (with the exception of obligations to the Gulf Co-operation Council—GCC—countries, which Iraq considered grants) stood at $42.1 billion at the end of 1990. 48 This debt was said to carry an 8 percent rate interest and 97 percent of it was to mature within 5 years. Jiyad suggests that this figure is likely to be global and to include both military and civilian, as well as both official and market debt, an interpretation which is supported by OECD figures. 49 Further evidence is provided to the United Nations by the Paris Club, showing that debt claimed to be owing to 16 countries including all major OECD members except the United States was $13.4 billion on 1 April 1991. 50

The extent and the status of the GCC loans is uncertain. The total stock of this debt has been subject to speculative comment, but Saudi Arabia has stated a figure of $26 billion for its own lending. On this basis, the total for all GCC countries is likely to be over $40 billion. However, Iraq tends to argue that these payments should be treated as contributions to the common defence by Iraq of the Arab states of the Gulf during the Iraq-Iran war. No term structure or interest rates are known with regard to this debt. Moreover, in the case of both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, a significant part of their contribution was made in the form of oil sold from the shared Neutral Zone fields between the two peninsula countries in favour of Iraq. Thus, even if payment became due (e.g. if it were forced on Iraq through inclusion in any Paris Club arrangements, or if Iraq’s obligations are deemed to fall under Paragraph 17 of Security Council Resolution 687 declaring any Iraqi repudiation of this debt as null and void), Iraq might still argue that payment could be made in kind. In all likelihood however, the status of this outstanding matter will be settled under regional political arrangements rather than as a part of international financial settlements.

Under the terms of all Security Council resolutions permitting supervised export of oil prior to the lifting of sanctions, the issue of external debt is postponed, while compensation payments are given precedence. When sanctions are lifted, debt servicing will begin to compete for a share of export earnings with both compensation payments and import requirements. Negotiations on debt reduction and repayment scheduling would have to take account of Iraq’s requirements and global commitments. The negotiations are likely to be protracted and to cover a range of issues, including Iraq’s future economic management and political stability, as well as the military procurement purpose of much of the debt, prudential management decisions of the creditors, and the issue of interest during the prolonged period of sanctions.

Compensation Payments

United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 reaffirmed in Section E that without prejudice to Iraq’s debts and obligations arising prior to 1990, Iraq is liable for any direct loss, damage or injury to foreign governments, nationals and corporations as a result of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The United Nations Compensation Fund together with the Compensation Commission administering it were set up according to Security Council Resolution 692, and the mechanisms and level of Iraqi payments were subsequently determined.

The figure of 30 percent of oil revenues to be allocated to compensation was adopted as a maximum according to Security Council Resolution 705 of 15 August 1991. This figure was based on the following assumptions:

Given that oil export revenues are unlikely to reach original estimates due to export restrictions, production capacities and depressed prices, Iraq will be unable to meet all its obligations in the manner set down above. The total of compensation claims is very high. Apart from personal claims, the largest number of which are for forced departure, more than 6,000 corporate claims have been lodged, totaling $82 billion. Some of these may be rejected and others will be scaled down, as was the case with the Kuwait Oil Company’s claim for the cost of putting out the well fires. Nevertheless, the claims that are likely to be approved may total around $50,000 plus interest. 52 In any final settlement of claims, Iran would also want to be included, but there is no mechanism for assessing damage, apportioning blame or ensuring payment to Iran. The Iranian case for compensation for the 1980-88 war was enhanced after the Kuwait war with a retrospective assessment from the UN Secretary General of Iraq as having initiated the war with Iran in 1980. 53 The issue of reparations for Iran illustrates the imponderables of the Iraqi economic situation. Unknown levels of reparations and debt service payments are to be paid out of uncertain and fluctuating oil revenues, while Iraq is in urgent need of funds for the basic requirements of the population, reconstruction and development.

Since the implementation of Security Council Resolution 986 in December 1996, Iraq has been paying 30 percent of its gross oil sale revenues into the UN Compensation Fund. So far, individual claimants are being compensated, but the major claims are corporate ones which are due to be dispensed next. Payment of corporate claims, however, raises the issues of other claimants, particularly Iraq’s creditors before 1990. Iraq’s international debt excluding debt owing to the Gulf states, would reach $77.9 billion by the end of 1998, assuming an interest rate of 8 percent. The combination of debt and reparations will result in an unsustainable burden under any realistic assumptions regarding oil revenues and import requirements. Using what may be optimistic assumptions about oil production and prices, Al-Shabibi simulated the behaviour of Iraq’s macroeconomy and concluded that “if relief is not obtainable and if debt is paid according to a strict amortisation schedule, the conditions of the Iraqi economy will continue to deteriorate even if sanctions are lifted”. According to these figures, a “no reduction” situation points to continued collapse of the Iraqi economy, with continually declining consumption levels and rising external debt. 54 Clearly, a rehabilitation process will be interrupted without substantial relief from external obligations.


The Oil Sector

The crude oil production sector has been operating below capacity for most of the past 18 years. Upstream investment has therefore been neglected except for oil transport pipelines during the 1980s. The transport system suffered heavy damage in both Gulf wars, but it is possible within a short period of time to rehabilitate enough transport capacity to enable Iraq to export all it can safely produce. According to Chalabi, the partial shutdown of much of Iraq’s production capacity during the 1980s resulted in a loss of 400,000 b/d of production capacity to 3.4 mbd. 55 It appears that further deterioration, war damage and the near complete shutdown and lack of maintenance under sanctions have accelerated the loss of capacity, reducing it to 2.16 mbd under current conditions. 56 Estimates for the cost of rehabilitation of Iraq’s oil industry vary from the UN Expert Group’s estimate of $1.2 billion to achieve a sustained output of 3 mbd, to Chalabi’s $5 billion required to completely restore the war damage to all facilities including transport, storage and refining capacities. 57 These estimates are not necessarily inconsistent with each other. If we take the Expert Group’s estimate, we can consider any additional export capacity beyond 3 mbd at its full development cost. Clearly, for political and economic reasons, Iraq is at present not in a position to raise the capital for major investment in oil production arrangements. It may thus be safe to assume that production would not exceed 3 mbd before the removal of the sanctions and settlement of outstanding issues.

After that, Iraq’s oil policy will be subject to the arrangements under which the country can resume normal international trade and to the settlement of compensation and debt repayment issues. Currently, compensation and other costs are being deducted as a percentage of oil revenues, resulting in a loss of over 40 percent of the average and probably almost as much of the marginal value of oil. Compensation alone amounts to approximately 32 percent of the value of oil at Iraq’s frontier. 58 Over 5 percent ($231 million in total for the first twelve months of oil sales beginning in December 1996) went to cover a number of UN activities associated with the implementation of Security Council resolutions. A further loss to Iraq arises from the heavy price discounts applied to Iraqi oil due to uncertainty and to the UN monitoring procedures. Expansion in production capacities through new investments are also likely to be associated with debt repayment arrangements. Since Iraq is now already utilising its established capacities, higher output and exports would have to meet the full cost of development of production and transport capacities. Iraq would need to enter new contractual arrangements with foreign partners or investors, possibly on unfavourable financial conditions given the country’s poor bargaining position at present. Any possible benefit to Iraq would also be reduced as a result of the impact on prices of greater oil supplies. Unless the country is free to conduct its oil business and its civilian international trade, and without a sharp reduction in reparations, the marginal cost of additional oil production could be so high as to deter new development. That said, the present government’s behaviour does not always lend itself to these economic calculations. Increased oil output is viewed as a source of power and prestige as well as of economic opportunity, hence it is possible that the government would proceed with oil development contracts at the earliest opportunity. In all cases, Iraq may gain from re-establishing its claim to its full share of oil output quotas, given its very high likely reserves of oil. 59 Iraq has had relatively little exploration and investment in crude oil over the past two decades, and arguably for much longer. Given the country’s current economic predicament, oil will be especially important during the rehabilitation process. The structure of the industry is likely to begin to change in order to take account of Iraq’s need for capital and technology. Iraq would also be looking to develop strategies for breaking the link between oil production on the one hand, and reparations and debt repayments on the other. This is essentially a political rather than a commercial issue, but it would have a great bearing on any decisions regarding long-term development in the oil sector.


Conclusion: Beyond the Food-for-Oil Arrangement

The Food-for-Oil arrangement took more than five years and prolonged negotiations to be brought into effect. The main changes that were introduced into the arrangement agreed in 1996 were the acceptance by the UN of the “temporary” nature of this arrangement, and the acknowledgement, in principle, of Iraq’s sovereignty over its economy. In addition, there was a greater involvement by the Secretary General of the UN in the implementation of the arrangement, a development viewed with favour by the Iraqi government.

Nevertheless, all detailed transactions remain subject to the approval of the Committee established by Security Council Resolution 661 and to the veto power of each of its individual members. The Iraqi government was forced by the country’s deteriorating conditions—reflected in the decline in the value of the dinar, continued degradation of the infrastructure and growing difficulty in maintaining the basic ration distribution. B to comply with the arrangement. The government entered the Food-for-Oil arrangement from a politically and economically weak position and it has been attempting to improve its bargaining position and widen the arrangement since, in order to make it more flexible and reduce the proportion paid out in compensation and costs. The government’s declared aim is to achieve a lifting of the sanctions through the implementation of Article 22 of Resolution 687. This can only happen after the government is deemed by all Permanent Members of the Security Council to have met the demilitarisation requirements, something which remains unlikely in the near future and liable to be a source of military tension.

Barring a major military conflict, it is now highly unlikely that the government will back out of the Food-for-Oil arrangement in an attempt to force an early removal of sanctions. This will be less likely as time goes by and as the resources generated by this arrangement are integrated into the consumption, production and incentive system. While improvements in living conditions have been marginal so far, it seems that the deterioration of the economy has been arrested. For its part, the United States would also find it difficult to interrupt the arrangement in order to put pressure on the Iraqi government.

Security Council Resolution 1153 of 20 February 1998 has cleared the way for increasing oil production and beginning to address the rehabilitation of the oil sector and the infrastructure. However, removal of sanctions to permit Iraq to enter economic and financial agreements of a long-term nature and deal with issues of development and debt repayments must await a political resolution of Iraq’s domestic and international relations.

Unless and until Iraq is able to negotiate from a position of acceptance within the international community without the onerous burdens of heavy reparations, the country’s future prospects will be severely restricted. Furthermore, Iraq will have to be freed of arbitrary decisions exercised through the veto mechanisms of the Security Council. Indeed, a change in economic approach also requires that the country is free from arbitrary rule.

The main economic point with which the government has to come to terms is that Iraq’s fundamental economic situation has been altered irrevocably. The relaxation or removal of sanctions will allow Iraq new options, but none of them will take it back to oil-based prosperity. The potential for Iraq lies in its combination of resources and its ability to be engaged peacefully and economically with its neighbours. The process of mobilising the country’s resources again will be gradual and will require all the people’s ingenuity.

The flow of financial resources to the country will generate a momentum for rebuilding the infrastructure, services and state institutions in their wider sense. This process will require wide participation and respect for individual and group initiative, and the initiation of a process of reform and reconciliation. There is an urgent need for economic policy reform, which will consecrate private activities and regulate them. Above all, there is a need to break the organic link between the state and private activities. Ultimately, Iraq cannot advance without the present regime coming to terms with its own reality as a minority political faction within the country.

Life in Iraq remains desperately harsh. A gradual relaxation of sanctions should be grounds for optimism and action. Many necessary political, economic and administrative reforms can be initiated during a period of stabilisation and gradual improvement, and it is not necessary to wait until sanctions are lifted or the regime is changed before considering reform. The international community can assist by easing the flow of resources into the country and by engaging in a wide dialogue and relaxing tensions. Iraq is also in need of technical assistance and its problems and experience require ongoing research.

Iraq’s government has so far avoided many of the underlying economic issues and concentrated on its political problems. Similarly, the Security Council has been using economic incarceration as a main policy tool to complement US military and political “containment”. This situation is untenable and damaging. The government will resist attempts to make the Food-for-Oil arrangement permanent, but its challenges to the status quo would be more effective if it were to develop a credible economic strategy for dealing with Iraq’s new economic realities.

There have been some—albeit few—reasons for optimism, such as the successful and relatively efficient rationing system, the post-war reconstruction effort, the policy of raising agricultural purchase prices in response to the sanctions, and the measures to curb inflation in 1995. However, these must be viewed as task-driven and as forms of crisis management, and do not form a commitment to a rational and coordinated policy aimed at achieving explicit objectives over a long time horizon. A shift in that direction is essential, and a new approach would include rebuilding the capacity for policy coordination, restoring the professionalism of the state’s monetary and fiscal agencies, and taking action to restore the morale and integrity of the public administration. The government alone cannot undertake these tasks successfully; public participation is a necessary component. As noted, this requires greater political openness and a relaxation of tension, both domestically and internationally.

The removal of sanctions will still leave Iraqi finances severely restricted by the combination of reparations and international debt. The international community can offer the country a way out of the current impasse, something which it has not done so far. Such a strategy would eschew confrontation and would abandon the policy of exacting punishing reparations. It would attempt to exchange debt reduction for a measure of domestic political openness, a move towards accountable government, and economic and administrative reform.

The restoration of economic and political stability is essential, but Iraq also needs an economic strategy that addresses its current state of affairs. The expanded Food-for-Oil programme does not fulfil such a requirement. The expansion permits a series of projects and tasks which do not address the policy requirements or deal with the institutional issues of public sector efficiency and private sector participation.

Increased oil exports will offer immediate relief, and that can never be a substitute for regenerating the economy. Iraq needs an economic strategy based on the restoration of essential utilities, the rebuilding of public education and health services, the selective rehabilitation of industrial plants, as well as encouraging investment in raising agricultural productivity and developing the potential of the oil sector. Confidence must also be restored in the country’s economic future.


Kamil Mahdi is Head of the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies, University of Exeter.



*: This article is an updated version of a paper prepared for the IAI’s International Affairs Laboratory. The opinions expressed do not necessarily correspond to those of the firms participating in the Laboratory.  Back.

Note 1: See, for example, A. Cordesman and A. Hashim, Iraq: Sanctions and Beyond (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997), Chap. 7.  Back.

Note 2: See A. Jiyad, “Iraq Indebtedness: From Liquidity to Unsustainability”. Paper presented to the Conference on “Frustrated Development: The Iraqi Economy in War and in Peace”, Centre for Arab Gulf Studies, Exeter University, 9-11 July 1997, hereinafter referred to as the Exeter Conference.  Back.

Note 3: For details, see A. Alnasrawi, The Economy of Iraq: Oil, Wars, Destruction of Development and Prospects 1950-2010 (Westcott, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995), Chap 5.  Back.

Note 4: Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Annual Statistical Bulletin (Vienna: OPEC, 1991).  Back.

Note 5: Iraq’s oil production capacity is estimated to have been approximately 3.2 mbd. See F. Chalabi, “Post-War Iraq’s Oil Capacity: Present Situation and Future Prospects”. Paper presented at Exeter Conference.  Back.

Note 6: For details, see K.A. Chaudhry, “On the Way to Market: Economic Liberalisation and the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait”, Middle East Report, vol. 21, no. 3, May/June 1991.  Back.

Note 7: Central Statistical Organisation, Annual Abstract of Statistics, henceforth AAS (Baghdad: CSO, various years).  Back.

Note 8: See S. al-Mukhtar, Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London Arabic daily), 11 March 1996.  Back.

Note 9: See, for example, P. Clawson, How Has Saddam Hussein Survived? McNair paper 22 (Washington DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, August 1993) p. 50, which quotes reports of 600 tankers, each with a 50 barrel capacity, crossing the border daily in addition to regular cargo trucks carrying extra tanks, all as early as 1991. This trade expanded through the years, but has been subject to frequent interruptions.  Back.

Note 10: As early as September 1991, Dreze and Gazdar reported in a survey that 23 percent of their respondents had no assets left to sell to supplement their low incomes; Table 7, p 47a. See J. Drèze and H. Gazdar , Hunger and Poverty in Iraq, Development Economics Research Programme Paper no. 32 (London: London School of Economics, 1991).  Back.

Note 11: D. Keen, The Kurds in Iraq: How Safe Is Their Haven Now? (London: Save The Children, 1993), p 39.  Back.

Note 12: According to Oil Minister Amer Rasheed, Iraq’s sustainable production capacity in March 1998 was 2.65 mbd assuming availability of spares and chemical treatment agents (2.3 mbd without access to the said materials). Capacity could be raised to 3 mbd in under six months, providing Iraq is allowed access to equipment and funds to rehabilitate some of its capacity. See Al-Hayat (London Arabic Daily) 22 March 1998.  Back.

Note 13: P. Boone, H. Gazdar and A. Hussain, “The Economy Under Sanctions”. Paper presented to the Exeter Conference, p 8.  Back.

Note 14: Dreze and Gazdar, Hunger and Poverty, Table 2a, p. 18a.  Back.

Note 15: Ibid, p. 19.  Back.

Note 16: Ibid.  Back.

Note 17: Boone, Gazdar and Dreze, “The Economy Under Sanctions”, Table 3.  Back.

Note 18: Ibid, p 15.  Back.

Note 19: See Boone, Gazdar and Hussain, “The Economy Under Sanctions”, p. 13. For a comparison of some public and private pay levels, see Table 3.  Back.

Note 20: See N. Haddad, “Feed Blocks Prove Hit With Farmers”, Caravan, no. 2, Winter 1995/96, (Aleppo: International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas), pp. 6-7.  Back.

Note 21: See A. Sayyid-Ali, “Al-Iqtisad Al-Iraqi: Ila Ayn?”, Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi, no. 228, February 1998, Beirut, pp. 78-9. Paper presented as “The Iraqi Economy: Where To?” at the Exeter Conference.  Back.

Note 22: For the state of manufacturing, see T. al-Khudayri, “The Manufacturing Industry of Iraq: Status and Future Prospects”. Paper presented to the Exeter Conference. For agriculture, see K. Mahdi, “The Political Economy of Iraq’s Agriculture”, in. E. Watkins (ed.) The Middle Eastern Environment (Cambridge, UK: St. Malo, 1995).  Back.

Note 23: Chaudhry, “On the Way to Market”  Back.

Note 24: See AAS 1982, Table 6/1, p. 125.  Back.

Note 25: Figures from United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, National Account Studies of the ESCWA Region. Both indirect taxes and subsidies declined in real terms as the Consumer Price Index rose from 100 in 1985 to 140 in 1988.  Back.

Note 26: AAS, 1993, Table 5-10, p 193.  Back.

Note 27: It is not entirely unreasonable to use this overvalued rate, since much government consumption, investment and subsidies would have been composed of imports valued at the official rate. If we were to use a shadow rate of exchange that assumes a dinar value at half the official rate, the estimated deficit would be 8 percent of GDP.  Back.

Note 28: Our interest here is in the size of the deficit relative to GDP. We have already noted different calculations of the share of oil in GDP.  Back.

Note 29: This is a rough calculation based on UNESCWA National Accounts statistics. It appears that the deficit was very high during the war year of 1991, declined in 1992, and then rose sharply again in 1993, largely as a result of the increasing cost of the food price subsidy. It has to be said however, that these figures are tentative, and they suffer from the unsettled markets and probably unwarranted relative price movements. It is also likely that some government activities, including small sanctions busting oil sales, are not included in these figures.  Back.

Note 30: Calculated from AAS 1990, Table 5-8, p 189, and AAS 1993, p. 183.  Back.

Note 31: See particularly, G. Simons, The Scourging of Iraq (London: Macmillan Press, 1996).  Back.

Note 32: For details, see Al-Khudayri, “The Manufacturing Sector”, p 14.  Back.

Note 33: Ibid, Table 4/1, p. 148. This figure is low despite the overvaluation of the official currency exchange rate and despite the availability of cheap power, infrastructure, etc.  Back.

Note 34: See AAS, 1990, Table 4/15, p 169.  Back.

Note 35: Al-Khudayri, “The Manufacturing Sector”, p 12.  Back.

Note 36: Ibid, Table 1, p. 8.  Back.

Note 37: Boone et al, “The Economy Under Sanctions”.  Back.

Note 38: Al-Khudayri, “The Manufacturing Sector”.  Back.

Note 39: Ibid, pp. 15-6.  Back.

Note 40: For a discussion of some of these issues, see Mahdi, “The Political Economy”.  Back.

Note 41: For the devastating consequences of sanctions and the collapse of government agricultural services upon land yields and output, see The Economist, 2 May 1998. See also Food and Agriculture Organisation, Report of the November 1996 Mission to Assess the Situation of the Agricultural Sector in Iraq.  Back.

Note 42: Chaudhry, “On the Way to Market”.  Back.

Note 43: See Boone et al, “The Economy Under Sanctions”, pp. 35-6 and Appendix 3.  Back.

Note 44: FAO, Report, p. 35; M. Ahmad, “Agricultural Policies Under the Current Embargo Period”. Paper presented to the Exeter Conference.  Back.

Note 45: UN, Report of The Group of Experts Established Pursuant to Paragraph 12 of Security Council Resolution 1153, 1998.  Back.

Note 46: US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers. Quoted in Zayni, Al-Iqtisad Al-Iraqi, Table 5-8, p. 235. See also P. Salinger and E. Laurent, Secret Dossier: The Hidden Agenda Behind the Gulf War ( London: Penguin Books, 1991) p. 233.  Back.

Note 47: Jiyad, “Iraq Indebtedness”.  Back.

Note 48: See Zayni, Al-Iqtisad Al-Iraqi, Table 10/1, p 302.  Back.

Note 49: Jiyad, “Iraq Indebtedness”, p. 28-9.  Back.

Note 50: United Nations Department of Public Information, The United Nations and the Iraq-Kuwait Conflict 1990-1996, The United Nations Blue Book Series Volume IX (New York: UN, 1996) pp. 387-8.  Back.

Note 51: Ibid, pp. 258-9, for the Note from the Secretary General to the President of the Security Council, 31 May 1991, S/22661.  Back.

Note 52: See N. Ulmer, Middle East Economic Digest, 6 June 1997.  Back.

Note 53: See United Nations Security Council, Letter for the Secretary General to the President of the Security Council, 24 December 1991.  Back.

Note 54: S. Al-Shabibi, Prospects for Iraq’s Economy: Facing the New Reality, UNCTAD Reprint Series No. 79, (Geneva: UNCTAD, 1998), p. 64.  Back.

Note 55: Chalabi, “Post-War Iraq”, p. 5.  Back.

Note 56: United Nations, “Report of the Group of Experts”.  Back.

Note 57: Chalabi, “Post-War Iraq”, p 9.  Back.

Note 58: Compensation payments of 30 percent are charged on the basis of prices paid at ports, not on a netback basis in the case of sales through Turkey.  Back.

Note 59: Ibid, p 6.  Back.