Iraq Population and Economy in the 1990’s

By | December 19, 2021


The war with Iran (1980 – 1988) and the Gulf War (1991), which broke out following the invasion of Kuwait (1990) by Iraqi troops, caused the Iraq huge human losses and have contributed to altering the demographic and settlement picture. Despite this and despite the political uncertainties and economic difficulties that still grip the country, the Iraqi population continues to increase at a rapid pace: in 1987, 16.3 million residents were counted, an increase – compared to the previous census (1977) – by about 36 %. In 1998, according to UN estimates, the population had risen to 21.8 million residents, with a further increase of 33.7 %. The birth rate is very high (42.5 ‰ in 1997), which makes Iraq a ‘young’ country: in fact, over 45 % of the population is under the age of 15.

However the Iraq still pays the consequences of the Gulf War today, as the embargo applied by the United States since 1990 has resulted in a progressive food and health shortage, following which, according to a report by the FAO, infant mortality has tripled (it has been It estimated that about 560. 000 Iraqi children have died as a result of trade sanctions imposed on the country), while rickets is increasingly popular.

From an ethnic point of view, the dominant Arab component (80 %) is flanked by the conspicuous Kurdish minority (15 %) which occupies the northernmost section of Iraqi territory. About three quarters of the population live in arable floodplains, which represent just one quarter of the land area. The most densely populated areas are that between the high Tigris and Kirkūk, the area around the capital, the area along the Šaṭṭ al-῾Arab. The 75 % of Iraqis residing in the cities, but only Baghdād, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and al-Sulaymaniyya play properly urban functions.

Economic conditions

At the beginning of the 1980s the Iraq could be considered the Arab country with the greatest potential for development, thanks to its huge oil resources, its population relatively large compared to that of the other states in the region, the availability of workforce and the possibilities for growth in the agricultural sector. However, every economic development project and program was wiped out by the two wars and by the growth of foreign debt.

In particular, the consequences of the Gulf War were very serious, as the country not only suffered the almost complete destruction of its infrastructure, but was also subject to international sanctions applied by the UN for non-compliance by the government of Baghdād, of the agreements that took place at the end of the conflict. This embargo continues today, with the sole exception of Resolution 986 (Oil for food), approved by the United Nations on April 14th. 1995, which authorizes the Iraq to export crude oil worth $ 2 billion every six months in exchange for food and medicine. Despite the resistance of the Iraqi government, which fears any possible attack on its sovereignty, the UN devolves part of the proceeds of these oil sales directly to the Kurds. However, the application of this resolution does not substantially change the state of extreme poverty of the majority of the Iraqi population. The economy, which was already on the brink of collapse in 1990, is now completely compromised and the country’s survival is largely entrusted to smuggling, of which the Ṣaddām Ḥusayn regime is the primary beneficiary. For Iraq economics and business, please check

As regards the various productive activities, it is difficult to draw a picture of them given the scarcity of reliable statistics. The primary sector, despite growing food needs, is in decline and the agricultural balance records a heavy deficit each year ($ 3 billion in 1996, according to an FAO estimate). The production of dates, wheat and especially barley is on the rise (+ 93 % in the period 1980 – 94), while the number of livestock is decreasing, with the exception of poultry animals. The secondary sector contributes a modest part to the formation of GDP and occupies 20% of the workforce; it is represented by heavy industries (all owned by the state), military production and light industries, for which there has been a recent opening to the private sector.

The country’s main and fundamentally only resource remains oil. Also in this case the production trend was affected by the war events that affected the Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s: from 168 million tonnes extracted in 1979, in fact, in 1991 it increased to 13.4 million, to settle in recent years around 30 ÷ 35 million tonnes (but in 1997 production rose to 58, 3 million t), against an internal consumption of just under half. We must also consider the huge reserves of natural gas, whose production is still very limited (3425 million m³ in 1995) and intended for internal consumption.

Iraq Economy in the 1990's