"One day, a group of American soldiers stormed into my house while I and my family were sleeping," Abd al-Joburi, an officer in Iraq's former military told IPS. "They tied my hands and put a plastic bag on my head and forced me to lie with my face down. It was because I'm an ex-officer, and Sunni."
Al-Joburi was imprisoned for nine months after the raid that took place in March of last year. "Nobody asked whether my family have any salary or income. Since I was released, I have not had a job."
Now, the sectarian practices of politicians and the government are adding to unemployment for whole sections of people, particularly Sunni Muslims.
"I applied for a job in the directorate-general of police of Diyala province four times," a former intelligence officer told IPS. "All of my applications were rejected. All the Shia ex-officers' applications were accepted, regardless of their experience and specialization. Now they are officers in the police and army."
The ex-officer added, "I am now working as a grocer."
Violence has made unemployment even worse; it has led large numbers of people to quit the jobs they had. Most people in Baqouba are today either forced to stay at home, or to leave the city, and if they can, the country.
"I closed my restaurant," said a local businessman in Baqouba. "Two militants came and killed the owner of the shop next to my restaurant. We had no choice."
"The owners of prominent shops, restaurants, car shops, rich people, heads of the offices, owners of buildings, traders, businessmen...all of them became targets of the militants," said a resident, who like many others, did not wish to give his name. "As a result, all of them quit. Just think how many people could be employed in all these fields."
Meanwhile, reconstruction and rehabilitation projects that could have employed some people have come to a standstill.
"I dismissed more than 50 employees in my company because of the stoppage of work," a manager with the Dolphin company for general contractors told IPS. "Work has stopped for more than two years."
The owner of a plastic pipes factory said threats forced him to close his factory. "I received a message asking me to pay $50,000, or I would be killed."
Unemployment in Iraq has been between 60-70 percent over the last two years, according to the government in Baghdad. This is nearly twice what it was in the period of the sanctions in the 1990s.
Most worrying is what is happening in the food business. The Diyala Food Company, the largest in the province, closed last year.
"A group of militants came to kidnap the owner's son," former employee Aziz Khamis told IPS. "The son and two of his bodyguards were killed, and the father was wounded. This big company has closed its doors, and thousands of employees are now stuck at home."
The reasons for losing jobs are endless. "I was fired for being a member of the Ba'ath party," Nasir Uwayid told IPS. "After a period of occupation, low ranking members were allowed to get their jobs again, but heads of offices who were members of the party were forced to retire or leave the city."
And sectarian displacement has brought its own unemployment. Tens of thousands of people have left their homes and jobs in Baqouba because of the sectarian violence. Many have tried to start again in other cities, but few have been successful.
In 2002 Baqouba had a population estimated at 280,000; in 2003, Diyala province had a population of roughly 1.2 million. Baqouba is roughly 70 percent Sunni, while Diyala province is about 90 percent Sunni.
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Albion Monitor February
21, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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