Social Policy in the Arab World: Iraq as a Case Study

By Ismael, Shereen T. | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Social Policy in the Arab World: Iraq as a Case Study


Ismael, Shereen T., Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


IN ITS ORIGINS, THE CONCEPT of social policy is related to a category of policies manifestly targeted at social (as opposed to political or economic) objectives. In the Arab world, social objectives were a high priority of the political ideologies in the post-WWII era, and social policy figured prominently in Nasserist, Arab Nationalist Movement and Arab Ba'ath Socialist programs. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the hegemony of the neo-liberal model of development, social objectives as goals in themselves dropped off the public agenda of policy debate; and throughout the non-Western world, national social policy programs were overridden by the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) structural adjustment agenda. Thus, social policy as a category of a state's principles or plans for action was essentially superceded by international agendas. Iraq is utilized as a case study of social policy in the Arab world to examine the parameters of social policy under the sway of international (as opposed to national) objectives.

As an exploration of a bounded system, a case study presents "a microcosm of the larger world we inhabit. It takes one problem, located at a particular point in space and time and explores it from every conceivable angle" (Cresswell, 1998, p. 15) to reveal "the inter-relationship and inter-connections present in the particular case" (Centre for Environmental Informatics, 2001). Iraq, as a case study of social policy in the Arab world, is explored to reveal the inter-relationship of and inter-connections between national and international social policy regimes. To locate Iraq in time and space, the contempary social conditions of the Iraqi people are described as they have been detailed in numerous reports by international agencies. These conditions are compared with their condition preceding the 1990-1991 Gulf war, an event that is generally recognized as a pivotal point in Iraq's social and economic development. The story of how Iraq traveled from point A to point B in time--a journey in social space from relative prosperity to absolute impoverishment--is explored from the angle of social policy.

As a result of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iraq, assessed by the UN Security Council for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the destruction wrought by the devastating 1991 U.S. led war against Iraq, a 1999 United Nations report on Iraq warned that "the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy which, in turn, cannot be achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts" (United Nations, March 1999). The report, prepared for the president of the Security Council, detailed the complete devastation of Iraqi society following the 1990-1991 Gulf War and the imposition of Security Council economic sanctions. It argued that Iraq's social and economic indicators wore generally above the regional and developing country averages prior to 1990, with Iraq's GDP in 1989 standing at 26.9 billion for a population of 18.3 million people. GDP growth had averaged 10.4 percent from 1974 to 1980, and by 1988, GDP per capita totaled $1,756. The report stated that "Iraq's GDP may have fallen by nearly two-thirds in 1991, owing to an 85 percent decline in oil production and the devastation of the industrial and services sectors of the economy. Per capita income foil from $2,279 US dollars in 1984 to $627 in 1991 and decreased to less than $700 in 1998. Other sources estimate a decrease in per capita GDP to be as low as $450 US dollars in 1995."

With oil accounting for 60 percent of the country's GDP and 95 percent of foreign currency earnings, Iraq's economy was heavily dependent on the external sector and sensitive to oil price fluctuations. In the early 1980s, Iraq was producing about 3.5 million barrels per day (BPD), but that amount declined to 2.8 million by 1989. The report found that although Iraq was exporting more oil than ever since the initiation of the 1996 'oil-for-food' program, "revenue remains insufficient due to a negative correlation linking low oil prices, delays in obtaining spare parts for the oil industry and general obsolescence of oil infrastructure. …

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