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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Iraq's middle class wiped out
Market
Conditions have slowly improved since oil-for-food deal


In the days before the Gulf War, people in the Arab world mocked big spenders by telling them to stop being such Baghdadis.

But since 1991, life in Iraq has changed dramatically - the country's GDP has dropped from US$3,000 to $715 and doctors have had to learn anew how to treat diseases that had disappeared from Iraq in the 1980s such as cholera and diphtheria.

For the past 12 years, the country has been struggling under UN-imposed sanctions, which have greatly affected the life of the Iraqis but done little to undermine the power of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein has kept a tight griip on power since UN imposed sanctions
Iraq's middle class has been almost completely wiped out while poverty is spreading and people with close ties to the regime are becoming richer.

The Ibrahimi family was once part of the middle class.

Today, the father's salary is about $6 a month compared to about $300 before 1991. With four children to feed, the Ibrahimis suddenly found themselves having to follow a strict budget after 1991.

"We sold everything we had: our car, my jewellery, vases, paintings, everything," says the mother, Fardos.

She used to work before the Gulf War and often bought ready-made meals for her family when she was too busy.

Now the family relies heavily on the government's food rations and meat is rare on the family's table.

'Suffering'

After the Gulf War, Mrs Ibrahimi quit her job to get a lump sum of money from her pension to keep the family going.

Iraqis queue for food rations
Iraqis have yet to regain pre-Gulf War living standards
"It was especially hard at the beginning, there was nothing available, we suffered a lot," she says.

But in 1996, Iraq accepted the UN-administered oil-for-food programme, under which Iraq can purchase food as well other UN-approved items with the income from oil sales.

Since then, living conditions have slowly improved but while most Iraqis are better off than people living in many developing countries, they are still hurt to see how far they are today from their pre-Gulf War living standards.

Two years ago, the Ibrahimi's oldest daughter, Sarar, started working as a secretary in a Turkish company in Baghdad, adding $50 to the family's monthly income.

But this still doesn't make up for their life before the embargo.

Thwarted ambitions

A plastic bag with photos is brought out and pictures are passed around of trips to Turkey and Bulgaria, weekends in the countryside and birthday parties with dozens of guests.

Now birthday cakes are too expensive to make and traveling impossible because of the $340 government exit tax. This is what makes Sarar, 24, most unhappy.


I had everything when I was young, life was easy. I never once thought my children's future would be so uncertain

Fardos Ibrahimi
"I feel like I am in a nightmare because I am very ambitious," says the young woman who was dreaming of going to university in the UK.

"I want to do many things. I want to progress, I want to travel and see the world, to work in something I love. And every time I reduce my ambition, there is a struggle between myself and my ambition," she adds.

Sarar says most of her friends are depressed, especially because getting married and founding a family has become too expensive for young people. Her mother is also depressed.

"I had everything when I was young, life was easy," says Mrs Ibrahimi. "I never once thought my children's future would be so uncertain."

With the US planning a military strike against Iraq, Iraqis feel the future now looks even more uncertain.

This is the second in a series of features from inside Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online.


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