Iraq Struggles to Get Back to Work
By Heather Holliday
An enterprising Iraqi offers his satellite phone for international call service at a street in Baghdad. The capital's telecommunication facilities were in shambles just after the war. The Coalition Provisional Authority plans to restore and improve the Iraqi network, a job that is estimated to cost more than $1 billion and take from 7 to 10 years. (Photo:Ali Haider/AP Wide World)

Long lines of people applying for work can be seen throughout the cities and villages of Iraq. Thousands of people pay 25 cents to $1 to fill out job applications on the side of the road. While waiting for jobs, many sell goods in the streets. Stolen city buses are now operated as individual private businesses. While Iraqis struggle for work, they are forced to rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

Iraq's unemployment rate is staggering, reaching more than 30 percent. After the war, the U.S. dissolved both the Iraqi Army and the former government's information ministry. Other government members were also laid off. Others lost their jobs when the factories where they worked were destroyed by bombs and looting. Ongoing power outages have shut down companies that rely on electricity to function. From soldiers to mess-hall cooks to secretaries, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their jobs.

U.S. officials are promoting small-business growth, which would provide jobs. In addition, irrigation canals are being cleared for farmers so they can produce goods. In June, a U.S.-led council discussed ways of bringing in foreign investments.

The administration has also tried to stop low-cost foreign labor from taking jobs from Iraqis. Immediately following the war, the Philippine government considered bringing in up to 30,000 Filipinos for a rebuilding project. But U.S. officials asked them to back off, which the Philippine government did.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, who is in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq, told reporters in July that new construction projects will create more jobs.

"With our development projects, we will also provide thousands, tens of thousands of jobs, in the next 60 days ahead," he said. "Construction and infrastructure proposals will be important in supporting the economy in the coming months."

Paying the underemployed

Former high-ranking Iraqi Army officers fill out documents prior to receiving their back wages from U.S. coalition authorities in Baghdad. A series of street protests by the officers prompted the Coalition Provisional Authority to reverse an earlier decision and grant everyone a one-time payment of $100 U.S. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/AP Wide World)

The U.S. government is also trying to deal with Iraq's desperate economy by paying wages to the few who have jobs but don't have work to do. Nearly $200 million a month is being spent on salaries, pensions, and emergency payments.

American officials say that as many as 250,000 Iraqis have jobs, but have little or no work to do. U.S. officials have approved salaries for at least 200,000 of those employees, some of whom only show up on payday. In addition, as many as 1.5 million unemployed government workers and former Iraqi soldiers are being paid simply for having previously been government employees.

"The payment of salaries helped avoid the humanitarian and refugee crisis that many had predicted," Bremer told reporters in July, referring to the fact that huge numbers of Iraqis have not fled the country, as many anticipated. Bremer has also said that temporary salary payments to out-of-work state employees will continue for "as long as it is necessary."