It is hard to say how big Iraq’s middle class currently is. This is because of a lack of reliable data on income distribution and because of the social changes still rapidly taking place.
The accepted definition of a middle class is also relatively loose. Generally speaking it is supposed to the group of people who fall between the working class and upper class but whether this is in terms of income, profession or mindset differs from country to country. In general, the middle class is considered to be composed of small businesses, merchants, craftsmen, professionals, intellectuals, academics, business executives, state officials and others. It is often described as an economically affluent and intellectual class not only because of its income, but also because of its interest in education, culture and art.
Over the past few decades the role that the Iraqi middle class plays – in the social, economic and political spheres – has shrunk. And this is due to a variety of factors.
One of these is demographical. Iraq’s population growth rate is estimated at between 2.5 percent and just over 3 percent per annum, and rising, which puts it among the top quartile of growth rates in the world. Often rapid population growth comes at the expense of the middle class in a country.
Additionally economic policies adopted since the early 60s have also played a crucial role in weakening Iraq’s middle class. The nationalization of business and the confiscation of property in the name of socialism destroyed the middle class’ economic base. It obviously also diminished the efficacy of civil society movements in Iraq and consolidated the totalitarian state’s hold on the Iraqi people.
At the same time, the sorts of political ideologies which glorified the “working classes” became widespread in Iraq. Again, these sorts of sentiments led to antipathy toward the private sector, toward private initiative and the professional class.
With the increase in oil prices in the 1970s, due to an Arab embargo on oil exported to western nations, as well as the nationalization of the oil industry inside Iraq, the Iraqi state’s income increased. As the state became richer it was also able to become the biggest employer of Iraqis. And rather than becoming an independent economic force, Iraq’s middle class were under even more government control.