BASRA, Oct 23 – Iraq\’s state-owned South Oil Company (SOC) unleashed a gush of job applications when it advertised 1,600 vacancies as part of a plan to dramatically increase crude production.
In Basra province, where the unemployment rate is in double-digit figures, interest was so overwhelming that SOC officials extended the application acceptance period, before eventually closing it on Wednesday.
Despite stringent conditions — recruits must be 40 years old or younger and resident in Basra — thousands of people of all ages from neighbouring provinces joined queues in the eponymous provincial capital to register their details.
"I am a taxi driver, but I\’ve had enough of this job, and I want to get a job in the government," said Mithaq Saber Mohammed, a 33-year-old technical college graduate living in Amara, the capital of a nearby province.
"All the registration requirements are fine and good, but unfortunately they\’ve said that only people from Basra can apply for the job. They are acting like Basra is the state of states in Iraq — as if no one can get a job if he is from outside Basra."
The SOC, operator of Iraq\’s southern oil fields, is increasing its workforce by around 10 percent as it prepares to begin work aimed at nearly trebling output at the giant Rumaila oil field.
In particular, it is looking for engineers, technicians and drivers.
"The company announced its need for new jobs, and it started by allocating three days to recruit each of the specialisations," a company source told AFP.
"But due to the large number of applicants, we had to extend the period to five days."
Iraq at present is producing around 2.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), and Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said this month he wants to increase that to around 10 to 12 million bpd within six years.
Britain\’s BP and China\’s CNPC International are on the verge of finalising a joint venture deal with Iraq to raise production at Rumaila from one million bpd to around 2.8 million bpd.
Iraqis will form 85 percent of the venture\’s staff, with foreigners filling the remaining posts.
The recruitment drive kicked off on October 4, when thousands of applicants bid for the three categories of job, with provincial officials noting that even the relatively small numbers required would help reduce joblessness in the province.
Unemployment in the region is above the Iraqi national average and according to the UN, 12 percent of men and a fifth of women are without jobs.
"This will affect, even by a small percentage, joblessness in Basra province," said Ali Swadi Mohammed, a member of Basra\’s provincial council.
Many lining up to apply fell victim to a series of quotas giving preference to, for example, family members of people killed by violence.
"I am an engineer, but I have not had a job yet — I applied for several government jobs and got nothing," said 31-year-old Mohammed Abdel Samad Adel, who graduated from an engineering college in 2002.
"I will work even if they accept me as a driver … but unfortunately, there are some conditions, and there are priorities for martyrs\’ families and others as well."
Other candidates are beset by administrative difficulties stemming from Iraq\’s own recent violent history, in which tens of thousands died in sectarian violence and buildings across the country were looted.
"I have no job at the moment and my financial situation is very bad — I am responsible for a big family, and I came here for a chance to be a driver," said Raad Naseh Owayad, one of whose family members was killed by violence.
"But they want me to give them papers showing I completed the sixth grade in elementary school. I went to the school to get my papers, but they told me all their documents had been burned," the 32-year-old said.