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Urbanization of Iraq

Two factors have dramatically accelerated migration to the city. The initial flood of migrants to the city was an unforeseen consequence of the privatization in the 1930s of land that had previously been administered collectively by tribal units. Unfavourable land-tenure conditions caused the impoverishment of a large part of the rural population, and growing numbers of them sought a better future in the cities.

The process of urbanization was also hastened by the growing commercial activity in the cities, which resulted from the rise of the oil industry. During the economic boom of the 1970s wages in the city were double those in rural areas. In order to prevent the countryside from being depopulated, oil revenues were, in the 1970s, invested heavily in rural infrastructure (education, health care, electrical power, roads, etc.).

Migration to the cities had far-reaching consequences for the labour force. In 1920 three-quarters of the labour force worked in agriculture. In the mid-1950s this percentage had fallen to half and, by the beginning of the 1990s, to one-third. About half were now employed in industry, construction, and mining, and about 40 percent in the fast-growing service sector. Participation by women in education and labour also grew during the years of strong economic growth. By 1985 women made up 19 percent of the working population, an extremely high percentage in the Islamic/Arab world. This figure does not include women in rural areas, who traditionally play an important part in agriculture. Because of the dramatic economic consequences of the wars with Iran and in Kuwait, economic and social development largely came to a halt.

Baghdad, Photo Shutterstock
Baghdad, Photo Shutterstock

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