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University of Baghdad
Courtesy Mokhless Al-Hariri

The impact of government policies on the class structure and stratification patterns can be imputed from available statistics on education and training as well as employment and wage structures. Owing to the historic emphasis on the expansion of educational facilities, the leaders of the Baath Party and indeed much of Iraq's urban middle class were able to move from rural or urban lower-class origins to middle and even top positions in the state apparatus, the public sector, and the society at large.

This social history is confirmed in the efforts of the government to generalize opportunities for basic education throughout the country. Between 1976 and 1986, the number of primary-school students increased 30 percent; female students increased 45 percent, from 35 to 44 percent of the total. The number of primary-school teachers increased 40 percent over this period. At the secondary level, the number of students increased by 46 percent, and the number of female students increased by 55 percent, from 29 to 36 percent of the total. Baghdad, which had about 29 percent of the population, had 26 percent of the primary students, 27 percent of the female primary students, and 32 percent of the secondary students.

Education was provided by the government through a centrally organized school system. In the early 1980s, the system included a six-year primary (or elementary) level known as the first level. The second level, also of six years, consisted of an intermediate-secondary and an intermediate-preparatory, each of three years. Graduates of these schools could enroll in a vocational school, one of the teacher training schools or institutes, or one of the various colleges, universities, or technical institutes.

The number of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools was highest in the central region and lowest in the north, although the enrollment of the northern schools was only slightly lower than that of the south. Before the war, the government had made considerable gains in lessening the extreme concentration of primary and secondary educational facilities in the main cities, notably Baghdad. Vocational education, which had been notoriously inadequate in Iraq, received considerable official attention in the 1980s. The number of students in technical fields has increased threefold since 1977, to over 120,090 in 1986.

The Baath regime also seemed to have made progress since the late 1960s in reducing regional disparities, although they were far from eliminated and no doubt were more severe than statistics would suggest. Baghdad, for example, was the home of most educational facilities above the secondary level, since it was the site not only of Baghdad University, which in the academic year 1983-84 (the most recent year for which statistics were available in early 1988) had 34,555 students, but also of the Foundation of Technical Institutes with 34,277 students, Mustansiriya University with 11,686 students, and the University of Technology with 7,384 students. The universities in Basra, Mosul, and Irbil, taken together, enrolled 26 percent of all students in higher education in the academic year 1983-84.

The number of students seeking to pursue higher education in the 1980s increased dramatically. Accordingly, in the mid-1980s the government made plans to expand Salah ad Din University in Irbil in the north and to establish Ar Rashid University outside Baghdad. The latter was not yet in existence in early 1988 but both were designed ultimately to accommodate 50,000 students. In addition, at the end of December 1987, the government announced plans to create four more universities: one in Tikrit in the central area, one each at Al Kufah and Al Qadisiyah in the south, and one at Al Anbar in the west. Details of these universities were not known.

With the outbreak of the war, the government faced a difficult dilemma regarding education. Despite the shortage of wartime manpower, the regime was unwilling to tap the pool of available university students, arguing that these young people were Iraq's hope for the future. As of early 1988, therefore, the government routinely exempted students from military service until graduation, a policy it has adhered to rigorously. This policy, however, has likely caused resentment among the poorer classes and those forced to serve multiple tours at the front because of continuing manpower shortages.

Data as of May 1988

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