Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Quora, as an answer to the question, “Is Iraq a safer place now compared to what it was like during Saddam Hussein’s regime? We have republished the answer with permission from the author.
I’m an Iraqi citizen and was just shy of four months old when the Iran-Iraq war ended. At three, I survived Gulf War I and then lived through the economic sanctions for the next 12 or so years. At age 15, I witnessed Gulf War II and spent my teenage years struggling through its aftermath.
So needless to say, I spent my early years during Saddam’s worst days; that is, when he turned from America’s favourite ally to its sworn enemy.
But was it really safer back then? Did America really help? Or was it actually worse before 2003? Personally, I think those are all misguided questions and here is why:
Iraq was a wealthy nation throughout the ’70s and ’80s, despite the fact that it underwent an eight-year long war with its neighbouring nation, Iran. The graph below closely follows the timeline I gave in Iraq: Did the west encourage Saddam Hussein to attack and invade Iran in 1980? If so, how did they do it?.
A decline is recorded around 1980 (the beginning of Iraq’s war with Iran), followed by a steady recovery starting 1982, and coinciding with America’s very public financial and political support for Iraq.
Coming out of the war, Iraq needed a lot of capital to rebuild its damaged infrastructure. However, Kuwait was lowering oil prices in a successful attempt to harm Iraq’s economy. Saddam tried negotiating with Kuwait on several occasions, but to no avail — Kuwait didn’t back down. So he decided to “take back” Kuwait.
Historically, Kuwait was a part of Iraq, and Saddam used this fact to cover up his blood-thirst. The results were devastating for Kuwait, a much smaller country with a fraction of Iraq’s population. Responding to Kuwait’s call for help, the U.S. attacked Iraq in turn and the latter failed to defend itself against the former’s military might. This explains the sharp decline around 1990 in the graph above.
Fortunately for Saddam, however, the American troops backed down without capturing him and ending it all. The U.S. then sought to enforce economic sanctions on Iraq, thereby sentencing Iraqis to a slow death. In the meantime, Saddam went on building lavish palaces for himself.
At the time, we were a family of two boys and a little girl. Formerly a government employee and now a Ph.D student, my father received a reduced salary of 8000 Dinars, while my mother, a full-time school teacher, was paid 3000 Dinars. The combined monthly income of the family, i.e. 11000 Dinars, was the equivalent of ~$6. Most other government employees made similar figures.
Those were by far the worst years of my life, and I’ve lived through some serious crap, trust me.
Towards the end of the ’90s, things began to look better. Saddam was sensing his end and he tried to make a few improvements in income and infrastructure. He even tried to introduce a controlled version of satellite TV and wireless mobile phones. But alas, America struck again in 2003; this time with the intention of removing Saddam while not really trying to avoid civilian casualties.
Another important distinction here is that Iraqis didn’t care to defend their country anymore. They just sat back while the U.S. troops took over.
This is why this, and all similar questions, are misguided. Iraq was safer and much wealthier before any American intervention. It was Americans, their support for Saddam, and later their war and sanctions on him that made Iraq such a terrible place to live.
It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that Iraqis had grown sick of their way of life. So much so that they sat back and watched America “save” them from its own doing.
And that, my friend, is the most hypocritical move in modern history!
Furthermore, the war didn’t improve things much anyway; on the contrary, it worsened the whole situation. Instead of living safely in poor conditions, Iraqis became somewhat wealthy, but lost all measures of personal safety. Where once they just had one tyrant to be afraid of, now they have hundreds more!
Even keeping their mouths shut, which used to keep them safe, didn’t help anymore. People were dying for having the wrong religion, place of birth, or even the wrong name!
The year 2006 was worse than 1991 and 2003 combined. Militias took over the streets, and it was chaos.
Post 2007, the violence surges became more tame; Babylon, where my family lives, was becoming a safer place to live. Baghdad and few other cities were struggling still and took longer to stabilise. Though every now and then, we still have the occasional suicide bombing and kidnappings here and there.
My family’s income has seen a tremendous boost since 2003, and they now live comfortably. That being said, my brother has survived a car bombing and I about four thus far.
Families that live in more dangerous cities, like Baghdad and Mosul, consider themselves lucky to be able to say the same.
In summary, Iraq was very safe for most of the Sunna before 2003, but was hostile towards the Shia and Kurds, depending on their affiliations. After 2003, the Sunna descended to become the oppressed minority while the Shia took control of the central government.
That being said, the Shia still struggled with Sunni threats like Al-Qaida (and now ISIS); all the while the Kurds built a very stable regional government. It’s like what they say about San Francisco; if you don’t like the weather there, just wait 10 minutes.
With such a dichotomized atmosphere, who has the upper hand as opposed to who falls victim to the most dangers has followed a similar pattern for an eternity. So if you want to see what happens next; if you want to see who lucks out this time, just wait 10 minutes.
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