Ok, I’m not expecting great things from Iraq’s current state of affairs. But to put things into a fairer frame of reference, I’m going to try to assess the Iraqi economy prior to the unlawful invasion by US and British forces.
Iraq’s modern borders were mostly demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was carved up. Lucky old Iraq was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932.
In many senses, then, Iraq doesn’t fit the format of other former colonies, not least because it was only under the British hammer for 12 years. But the Empire made good use of those 12 years. For starters, the Commissioner Sir Percy Cox initiated a policy of close cooperation with the Sunni minority, which was to lead to all sorts of problems down the line.
One specialist in this area, Fanar Haddad, comments:
the roots of sectarian conflict… becomes a question of how you divide the national pie. And I think that’s the main driver, the main animator behind sectarian competition in Iraq. That’s a very new one. The state was established in 1921. Not too long after that, you start hearing about how the majority — the Shias — are being neglected, excluded, marginalized, or what you have you.
This favouritism of the Shias led ultimately to the ascendancy of Saddam Hussein. After all, Saddam is believed to have immersed himself in the anti-British and anti-Western atmosphere of his youth. And thus to the British invasion that cost the lives of 179 servicewomen and men, and the Treasury £8.4 billion – or £134 per woman, man and child. Not to mention the wholesale destruction of much of Iraq’s infrastructure and mass fatalities.
Enough of this history lesson – how about the economy?
It’s proven impossible to find any figures for the size of the economy in 1932. Suffice to say that oil was found in Kirkuk in 1927, with pipelines to the Mediterranean opened in 1935 resulting in a ‘noticeable increase in construction, foreign trade and educational facilities’. Despite this, the economy was mainly agricultural until 1950, but development was quite rapid after the 1958 revolution.
Given the best estimate (using US dollars from 1990) of GDP per capita $1,000 in 1913 and $1,364 in 1950, let’s say it was $1,187 at the date of independence (increasing at the stunning rate of $9.84 per annum). The UK’s GDP per capita in 1932 was $5,148, so Iraq’s economic strength was just 23% that of the UK. Better than Egypt was doing at independence day, but not much.
How would Iraq fare in terms of today’s GDP? We already know that the UK’s GDP per capita in 2013 was $42,423. Iraq’s would be $1,984 in 1990 dollars, or $2,750 in 2013 dollars, which would put it in 135th place in the global ranking, between Bhutan and the Philippines. But instead, Iraq – despite suffering a sequence of devastating wars with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives – is ranked number 97, with $5,790 per capita GDP. That’s a 110% improvement on its potential under British beneficence.
|Date of independence||GDP at that date ($ 2013)||GDP in 2013 ($)||Independence ‘bonus’|