Stratification and Social Classes

Iraq Table of Contents

The pre-revolutionary political system, with its parliament of landlords and hand-picked government supporters, was increasingly incompatible with the changing social reality marked by the quickening pace of urban-based economic activity fueled by the oil revenues. The faction of the elite investing in manufacturing, the petty bourgeoisie, and the working classes pressured the state to represent their interests. As the armed forces came to reflect this shifting balance of social forces, a radical political change became inevitable. The social origins and political inclinations of the Free Officers who carried out the 1958 overthrow of the monarchy and the various ideological parties that supported and succeeded them clearly reflect the middle-class character of the Iraqi Revolution. Both the agrarian reform program and the protracted campaign against the foreign oil monopoly were aimed at restructuring political and eonomic power in favor of the urbanbased middle and lower classes. The political struggle between the self-styled radicals and moderates in the 1960s mainly concerned the role of the state and the public sector in the economy: the radicals promoted a larger role for the state, and the moderates wanted to restrict it to the provision of basic services and physical infrastructure.

There was a shift in the distribution of income after 1958 at the expense of the large landowners and businessmen and in favor of the salaried middle class and, to a lesser degree, the wage earners and small farmers. The Baath Party, in power since July 1968, represented the lower stratum of the middle class: sons of small shopkeepers, petty officials, and graduates of training schools, law schools, and military academies. In the 1980s, the ruling class tended to be composed of high and middle echelon bureaucrats who either had risen through the ranks of the party or had been coopted into the party because of their technical competence, i.e., technocrats. The elite also consisted of army officers, whose wartime loyalty the government has striven to retain by dispensing material rewards and gifts.

The government's practice of lavishing rewards on the military has also affected the lower classes. Martyrs' benefits under the Baath have been extremely generous. Thus, the families of youths killed in battle could expect to receive at least an automobile and more likely a generous pension for life.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress