Sanctions were enforced immediately after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and continued to make life miserable for all Iraqis, especially the poor, for another twelve years. During the sanctions era Islamic fundamentalism spread throughout Iraq. Vali Nasr: "The works of the Iraqi exile thinker Muhammad Ahmad al-Rashid on jihad and the Islamic state, which were smuggled from Egypt, gained a following, but more important, the tentacles of fundamentalist and Salafist trends popular elsewhere in the region began to penetrate the country."
During his rule, Saddam led Iraq into two disastrous wars and economic ruin. In 2003 many Iraqis were happy to see the end of Saddam's regime, but they wanted to end it themselves, as difficult as it might have been, and they certainly did not want to see yet another bombardment of their country. They had no choice in the matter, and Saddam and his gang of thugs would end up on trial for crimes against humanity. Iraqis were finally free. Democracy would flourish, so we thought.
Amnesty International summarized in a 2010 report the situation in Iraq since 2003:
Since 2003 armed groups opposed to the Iraqi government and the presence of US forces in the country have been responsible for gross human rights abuses amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have targeted civilians and attacked indiscriminately, killing thousands of civilians, mostly in suicide bomb attacks in busy public places. They have also kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of others. US and Iraqi forces have also committed grave human rights violations. They have tortured or otherwise ill-treated many prisoners, some of whom have died as a result. They have killed civilians in raids on houses, at checkpoints and during armed clashes. They have destroyed the houses and other property of Iraqis.
Last night I read Samia Nakhoul's article "Unlike Iraq, Egyptians do regime change their way". The article is mostly about how great Egypt is and doesn't really explain why Iraqis could not do regime change "their way". She doesn't mention the thousands of suicide bombers, the car bombs, the incredible sectarian violence that has ravaged Iraq, except to say "the fall of Saddam, at a cost of thousands of lives -- and a foreboding of so much more blood to come -- failed to ignite the sense of national triumph among Iraqis that has had Egyptians dancing in the streets after 18 days of popular protests." She did refer to the crippling sanctions. But not a single mention of suicide bombings or the other challenges that Iraqi democrats have had to overcome since 2003.
Terrorists have tried hard to destroy any possibility of democracy in Iraq. Egypt has not been through what Iraq has been through in the last three decades. Democracy is difficult to achieve during war. Iraq has been at war for a long time and is still in a state of war. On top of war there is corruption, ineffective government, high unemployment, and little progress. Iraqis have realized that elections do not necessarily yield a wonderful democracy.
As Yuliya Tymoshenko noted recently: "what if the enemies of freedom use elections to entrench their anti-democratic agendas? What if elements of the old regime, or the cadres of militant minorities, only pretend to embrace democratic norms in order to hijack the new democracy?"
And what if terrorists murder elected members of government, police, army recruits, judges, and ordinary citizens? How can democracy thrive in that setting?