Sunday, February 26, 2012

Remembering Arab Perspectives on Iraq

On fb last night and this morning I read a comment by an Arab American (half Moroccan, half Italian, presumably living in USA) who said that Iraqis lived better under Saddam. She claimed "Iraqis had electricity and running water and all the basic needs under Saddam. Now I'm not saying I like the guy, but I am pointing out that Iraqis lived better under him. Setting foot in Iraq to "free" them was the worst thing the Americans could ever do."

I was surprised by her comment and I responded: "In general Iraq's Sunni Arabs lived better under Saddam. People who believe all Iraqis lived "better" under Saddam simply do not understand what Iraqi Shia went through for 24 miserable years. Iraqis had electricity and running water and all the basic needs under Saddam? Really? LOL! I guess the Sunni Arabs think so!"

I wanted to give her an example of how Iraqis in Basra were suffering in the 90s, so I transcribed a couple of paragraphs from Iraq Under Siege in which a Basrawi doctor was interviewed in 1996:

“Dr. Tarik Hasim Habeh, the young director of residents, had taken us through several children’s wards. Infant after infant lay wasting and skeletal in squalid conditions. We saw children suffering severe malnutrition, respiratory diseases, leukemia, and kidney disease. In one room, fourteen incubators were stacked against the wall, useless because of the lack of repair parts. The blood bank consisted of one miniature refrigerator and an ancient centrifuge.

Dr. Habeh explains that the hospital is chronically short-staffed. Doctors can’t earn enough to feed their families, sometimes making no more than $3 per month, so some work instead as taxi drivers, street vendors, or waiters. Many nurses also find it impossible to continue the work for which they were trained.”

She liked that comment and was friendly. She said she based her comment (the one about Iraqis living better under Saddam) on what her Iraqi Shia friends from college told her. Interesting. So Iraqi Shia have misinformed this woman, I thought. But most likely they were telling her that Iraqis had electricity and potable water in Baghdad before 2003. The fact is that "In the 1980s Iraq was producing around 9,000-9,500 megawatts. By 2002 it was only producing 4,075 megawatts."

The south was neglected during sanctions, and most Arabs don't understand this. They have the impression that all Iraqis lived better under Saddam. In the Arab mind, if Iraqis suffered in the 90s, it was because of US-imposed sanctions, not because of Saddam. I find this frustrating, and wanted to document a perspective that is probably shared by a majority of Arabs.


jnana said...

It is really frustrating.
Some Iraqis might say it was better during Saddam's time because it is always easier to magnify current pain and forget the significance of past pain. Maybe. As for why Arabs defend Saddam times, some of them were the ones who really benefited from him (Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians) and some consider him an "arab nationalist" hero.
Whenever I get into this discussion, I always remind people that most of the current problems that Iraq is going through are an after-math of Saddam's tyranny! So to compare the two periods is pointless.

Iraqi Mojo said...

Good points, jnana. As one Shia cleric put it in 2005, "The killers of today are the same killers as yesterday."

Also I think the media was a big factor after 2003. Suddenly images of abused and murdered Iraqis were televised and people were like "OMG innocent Iraqis are dying!" as if innocent Iraqis were not abused and murdered before 2003. It comes down to one thing: ignorance.

Dolly said...

The suffering was the consequence of Bush's "God told me to flatten Iraq" campaign.

It took Nobel Peace laureate Obama to end the nonsense. If you recall, McCain favored another 100 years of war.

Maury said...

"It took Nobel Peace laureate Obama to end the nonsense"

Not true. All Obama did was adhere to the FAFSA agreement Bush and Maliki agreed to.