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Peaceful Kurdish Region Experiencing Growing Pains

An economic boom is under way in the relatively peaceful and secure northern region of Iraq. But inflation is also on the rise and wages for some workers are actually decreasing. VOA's Brian Padden reports from Irbil, in northern Iraq.

The city of Irbil is under construction. Its center is being transformed with new shopping malls, offices and hotels. City officials believe the generally secure environment in the region, along with an influx of oil revenue and foreign assistance, will attract private investment and lead to long-term economic prosperity there.

But this sense of optimism is not shared by many working-class Kurds. Every day hundreds of day laborers gather on the street in hopes of finding construction work. In the past, construction bosses would come to these locations and hire truckloads of workers. The laborers say today these jobs are few and far between.

The problem, says Mashud Abdulah, is the large number of people coming from other parts of Iraq.

He says Arab workers have come here by the thousands and work for half the wages.

Not only are wages shrinking for many in the area, but inflation is on the rise. Najim Addeen works for the ministry of justice. He says his salary of $140 a month used to be enough to support his family of five.

He says before they could afford many things, but in the last year everything has gotten so expensive.

In one year, the rent for his small home has gone up almost 400 percent.

Now he drives a taxi at night to earn extra money.

Many in the area complain that the local government is not doing enough to control inflation or protect the rights of Kurdish workers.

But officials say if the Kurdish region is to attract international business investment, it must embrace the rules of the market place. That means businesses have to show they can increase productivity and control costs.