(April 2003) Three wars in the last quarter century and 12 years of international economic sanctions have demolished much of Iraq’s social-welfare system and have created major uncertainties around the country’s demographic estimates. This oil-rich country, which shares borders with Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, was one of the most developed Middle-Eastern nations at the end of the 1970s. According to the United Nations, major social investment by the government between 1975 and 1985 — helped along by oil sales — boosted living standards and improved the country’s social sectors.

Today, the outlook is drastically different. Life expectancy at birth, which was 65 years for the period 1985-1990, is now 58 years (compared with 76 years in Kuwait). The latest conflict, Iraq’s second war in just 12 years, has seriously compromised living conditions for much of the population of 24 million, half of whom are under age 18. Women and children in particular have suffered the effects of conflict and international sanctions. For example, the United Nations Population Fund reports that maternal mortality has more than tripled since the late 1980s, going from 117 deaths per 100,000 live births to 370 today. The infant mortality rate — the annual number of deaths of children under age 1 for every 1,000 live births — was 64 prior to the 1991 gulf war, compared with 103 today.

The following are selected measures of the Iraqi population’s well-being:

Iraq Facts and Figures

Population mid-2002 23,600,000
Projected population 2025 41,200,000
Infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 infants) 103
Total fertility rate (average number of children per woman) 5.4
Maternal deaths per 100,000 live births 370
Population under age 15 (percent) 47
Life expectancy at birth, both sexes 58
Literacy rate (ages 15+), 2000, female (percent) 46
Literacy rate (ages 15+), 2000, male (percent) 66
Labor force participation (ages 15-64), 2000, female (percent) 16
Labor force participation (ages 15-64), 2000, male (percent) 76