The Associated Press reports: Iraq’s lawmakers have hightailed it out of town for a six-week vacation without following through on promises to cancel a pricey perk for free armored cars that they approved for themselves in the annual budget.
It is the sort of move that is fueling resentments among the struggling Iraqi public, many of whom accuse the country’s leaders of being corrupt and only in politics for their own profit. For months, parliament has failed to rework the $100 billion budget that came under widespread criticism or pass a list of laws to tackle the country’s numerous problems.
“They have not discussed ways of how to improve the lives of people like me,” said Ammar Hassan, a college graduate from Karbala who drives a taxi to support himself. “They only think about themselves instead of paying attention to people’s welfare.”
The 39-year-old Hassan said he earns an average of about $200 each month — a fraction of the monthly $22,500 salary afforded to each of the 325 lawmakers in parliament. [Note: Members of the U.S. Congress pay themselves $14,500 a month.]
“I’m afraid the day will come when lawmakers pass a law imposing taxes on ordinary people’ salaries and incomes to cover their own living costs,” he said bitterly.
Iraq’s government has been rife with corruption going back to the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who hoarded the nation’s oil riches for himself and his cronies amid an impoverished public. Hopes that conditions would dramatically improve as Iraq tried to build a post-Saddam democracy proved overly optimistic, however. A quarter of Iraq’s population of 31 million people live in poverty, and an estimated 15 percent are unemployed, according to U.S. data compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Raw sewage runs through the streets in many neighborhoods, polluting tap water, sickening residents and adding to an overall sense of misery. Many Iraqis only have 12 hours of electricity each day. (H/t John Robertson)