Host Intro: Finding steady work typically requires a good education, people skills, a polished resume, and an active effort on the part of the individual. To this list, an Iraqi would add bribe money. Paying someone to get hired would sound completely absurd to an American, but in Iraq it’s considered a matter of course. Karim Sariahmed reports on the obstacles facing Iraqi workers.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Many recent college graduates in the US have been having a lot of trouble finding jobs, mostly due to economic downturn. In Iraq, however, to say that a college education does not guarantee steady work is a gross understatement. Omran Rafeek lives in Baghdad, and he graduated from Al-Mustansiriyah university’s college of science about five years ago, and his goal was to be a teacher.
OMRAN RAFEEK: During the former regime, we were trying to avoid mandatory military service by going to college. It was also my wish and that of my family to finish college. The field of study is really based on your total in high school. When I was told that I will be enrolling in mathematics, I liked it, and I finished four years and graduated. You would end up either teaching mathematics in school, or complete higher studies, M.A. or Ph.D., so that one can teach in the universities. but I couldn’t get any of them. It is very hard to get a teaching job. You need two things to secure a job, connections and money.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Paying employers to get hired is a common practice in Iraq. Rafeek said he knows many people who’ve paid between $5000 and $7000 to get a job which pays $500 a month. Since he doesn’t have that kind of money, he has been getting by selling mobile phones and filming weddings since he graduated. Among his friends are cab drivers, garbage men, store clerks, and physical laborers. Many simply joined the army. One of his friends is an air traffic controller, the only one he knows from his graduating class whose studies are relevant to his profession.
OMRAN RAFEEK: Another issue in employment is that employers are not necessarily looking for qualified candidates. The most important thing is how much the candidate is willing to pay so that he can get a good job. I know people who are not qualified to do their jobs, and unfortunately, they occupy these jobs. Administrative corruption is the biggest obstacle for employment in Iraq. There is no other obstacle. corruption is a disaster, it’s a disaster.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Anas Tawfeek is a recent engineering graduate from Mosul, struggling with the same problems.
ANAS TAWFEEK: If you don’t have connections in the government and money to pay to employers, then you won’t get hired. you won’t be able to work, and simply put you’ll sit at home, even if you have a Ph.D. I thought that when I graduate, I’d find so many employment opportunities. But my choice wasn’t wrong, it’s just that the current situation is not good. There are no projects or reconstruction efforts happening in the country right now.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Many see leaving the country as a potential solution. Tawfeek’s brothers live in the United Arab Emarates. However this also would be very expensive, and the recent economic downturn has made finding employment abroad difficult as well. This leaves many Iraqis with very few viable options.
ANAS TAWFEEK: Well I’m about to open a small burger stand. I have no other solution. My friend graduated first in his class, and he still hasn’t found work. Its very frustrating, you study for four years and your family supports you, and pays a lot for college expenses. And when you graduate there is nothing that will compensate your hard work, you’ll be very depressed. Some young men who don’t have faith might take a different route. Some might be forced to join the police or army, while others might become criminals. you never know.
KARIM SARIAHMED: There are jobs available in the private sector which are slightly easier to get, but they offer no benefits or job security. Tawfeek again.
ANAS TAWFEEK: There are many private companies that were founded after 2003. The problem is that their salaries are very poor, the salary hardly covers expenses for commuting. The other problem is that you also need connections. Working at these companies is a complete failure, and they basically do dirty work. That’s why its actually better to stay at home than work in those companies.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Alino Rayan is in his third year studying engineering at Al Ma’mon university college. He is acutely aware of the odds he will face when he graduates. His real passion is languages, but he says that that won’t land him a job, so he just studies French as best he can on his own.
ALINO RAYAN: Because, uh, I really did this to find a way, you know, to make my future success – succeed, sorry. Because if I go to study languages, right, ah, I will study the four years and graduated and then I will have no job. People suffer to have jobs, so I did this. I can study engineering though I don’t really like it. What else can I do? I mean it can help me to maybe go outside of Iraq to study maybe another place, but if I go to study languages, uh, no it won’t really be sufficient to obtain my desires, really. So that’s what I–we have to do.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Knowing the state of Iraq’s job market, however, there is no guarantee that there will be a job for him when he graduates, with or without an engineering degree.
ALINO RAYAN: I don’t really think about the future. It comes soon enough. So I really just contemplate, contemplate about it, meditate about it. When people get tired and fed up with this they go and make their own way, like, some of them will rent a small shop and open a PC place to, uh, fix some PCs…some of them will go sell fabric on the ground. Believe me, they do whatever they can to survive. I mean, just because they did not have a job doesn’t mean they can go and sit in the home, you know?
KARIM SARIAHMED: The situation weighs more heavily on Omran Rafeek, who has worked odd jobs for the past five years.
OMRAN RAFEEK: I only complain to God. I only have God. But I’m not the only one who is suffering from this. thousands of graduates, suffer from the same conditions. They are my only solace. I tell myself, I’m not the only one who is dealing with this. All we can do is wait and hope for a good outcome. We hope the government will be formed, but, the government hasn’t been formed yet, and it’s been several months. And this is all coming out of our lives. We can only say god is kind, and be optimistic.
KARIM SARIAHMED: For War News Radio, I’m Karim Sariahmed.