15 Years On, Iraqi Hopes Fade

15 Years On, Iraqi Hopes Fade

Saturday, 7 April, 2018 - 07:00
This picture taken on April 6, 2018, shows Tahrir square in Baghdad. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP
Baghdad - Asharq Al-Awsat
The US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Fifteen years later, the lives of Iraqis have changed dramatically.

The fall of Saddam's regime effectively ended a 12-year embargo imposed by the United Nations on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Iraq's 34 million people are back in the international trade arena, although nearly eight million residents still live on less than $2.2 (1.8 euro) a day, according to the UN. 

With 153 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, Iraq is the second largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

And with a barrel of oil now valued at triple its price in 2003, Iraq's GDP has increased from $29 billion in 2001 to $171 billion in 2016.

But according to Agence France Presse, the country has failed to diversify its economy, and the government still draws 99 percent of its revenue from the oil sector.

Since 2003, the oil sector has generated more than $800 billion in revenue, but corruption has cost the country $312 billion, according to the Injah Center for Economic Development. 

Fifteen years ago, Abu Ali was thrilled to see American soldiers enter Baghdad. "The tyrant is finished," he remembers saying, imagining a bright future for Iraq without Saddam.

But in July 2007, Abu Ali's eldest son, 18 at the time, was killed when a car bomb hit a busy street in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood.

He had been selling watermelons to passers-by trying to escape the summer heat.

Six years later almost to the day, the taxi driver's two younger sons, Alaa, 23, and Abbas, 17, were also killed in an attack.

The losses are written in deep lines along his face, aged well beyond his 61 years.

Abu Ali used to dream of lives for his children that would be better than his own, but now he only visits them at the cemetery.

"I go to their graves every week, I feel like they're sitting near me," he said.

Abu Ali's hopes for a brighter future have faded.

"The situation does not bode well... no one thinks of the people," he said. "The parties only seek to win seats."

Things were different before, said Qais al-Sharea, a hairdresser in the capital.

"Saddam Hussein was the strong man, the one who controlled everything and scared the entire world with his chemical weapons," he said.

Each morning, when he opened his salon in Al-Ferdous Square in the heart of Baghdad, the dictator's colossal statue stood guard outside.

On April 9, 2003, Sharea, who had stayed at home that day, watched on television as US soldiers with an armored vehicle helped a crowd armed with a sledgehammer pull down the bronze statue in front of his shop.

"Baghdad fell when the statue fell," he told AFP at the foot of the giant platform, now covered with rubble poorly hidden by crumpled sheet metal -- the site of a construction project that has so far failed to take shape.

Sharea, 27 at the time, thought "like all young people" that Baghdad would soon be filled with nightclubs and restaurants. 

"We (thought) we would travel the world," he said. 

Mahmoud Othman, a 65-year-old Kurdish politician who served as a member of Iraq's transitional leadership after Saddam's fall, said: "The Americans had a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they had no agenda for post-Saddam.”

State institutions and Saddam’s all-powerful Baath Party were dismantled. But that led to a security vacuum and the proliferation of arms.

"We thought we'd have a federal and democratic system, but we've had sectarianism and chauvinism," said Rauf Maaruf, leader of the Kurdish opposition party Goran. 

Every institution has been affected, according to Abdel Salam al-Samer, a 58-year-old university teacher for the past three decades.

"The situation in Iraq has deteriorated and so have our universities," said Samer, who has seen political factions interfere in education and colleagues killed by militias. 

Members of Iraq's religious and ethnic minorities say they have paid the highest price.

"Our country has been going through catastrophe after catastrophe," said the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako.

“Life in Iraq has turned into a case of one step forward and five back", concluded Sharea.

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