Prior to the oil booms of the 1950s and the 1970s, Iraq's agriculture experienced many decades of growth, thereby underpinning the development of the modern state and the class structure of the pre-1958 period. This book argues that, by the 1950s, the agricultural sector that had earlier been dynamic and export-oriented was already tending to stagnation before both the early oil boom and the radical land reform of 1958. The sector that had largely relied on renewable natural resources, indigenous technology and customary social organisation had given rise to highly iniquitous income and wealth distribution, and it became associated with an entrenched socio-political structure that resisted reform and failed to raise productivity. Mahdi's analysis of Iraq's pre-oil agriculture forms the background to the main part of this book that deals with the impact on agriculture and the country's economy of the large increases in oil revenues from the early 1950s until the eve of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-8. The book places the rentier state and the different ways in which oil revenues affect the agricultural sector at the centre of an analysis of economic structure and performance.
It offers a new interpretation of the stagnation and subsequent decline of agriculture, and rejects simple readings based on political and administrative failures of the agrarian reform in favour of a more nuanced analysis that also incorporates economic structure, organisation and policy.