Posts Tagged ‘iraq’
Basra, the second or third largest city in Iraq, should be a great metropolis, more dynamic than Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Kuwait City, and should dominate the Gulf. Its port, Umm Qasr, offers the rest of the world access to one of the biggest oil-producing countries, which is also a huge potential consumer market. Hydrocarbons are abundant in the area, and the deposits are cheap to exploit, giving substantial profit margins no matter how much the price of oil varies.
Not so long ago, Basra was known for its cosmopolitan society, intellectual elite and skilled workforce — a real city that should have become a manufacturing power and a platform for regional trade. Its fertile hinterland is suited to rice and dates, for which it was once famed. Yet now, when you arrive at the airport, the first thing you see is a banner reading ‘Basra: Investment Paradise’ and all you can do is laugh, and despair.
Basra feels like a third-world dystopia. The state is almost absent, except as a governorate, which complains that it has not had a budget since 2013. Week after week, it is surrounded by demonstrators who never stop protesting, though they don’t attract much popular support. The spread of sectarian militias has almost eclipsed the presence of the official security forces. The foreign oil companies are also invisible: At best, they recruit manual labour locally, when some tribe or other resorts to violence to ensure that it receives a share of the oil money.
The economy is shifting rapidly from dependence on sectors that are already fairly doubtful — such as public funding (when salaries are actually paid and projects financed) and consumption of imported goods (especially cars) — towards the morbid reality of endemic corruption and trafficking in hydrocarbons and drugs. Meanwhile a continuing demographic explosion has led to uncontrolled urban development.
Basra is the exact opposite of a city-state — that ancient model of autonomous, resource-rich cities that seems to reappear when the nation-state disintegrates. Those who make the law here are outsiders. The governorate is subordinate to a hyper-centralised system: Even trivial decisions are taken in Baghdad, where Basra has few to speak for it — just one minister out of 30 and 9% of seats in parliament. The local political class represents non-indigenous parties and militias, which have a parasitic relationship to the city.