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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 13:31 GMT
Iraq invasion: For better or worse?
John Simpson
By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

Saddam statue being toppled in April 2003
Even at the time of Saddam's fall, people were wary of the future
The first thing that struck me about Baghdad when I saw it in April 2003, a few days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, was how poor it had become. I hadn't been allowed back there since 1991, after the first Gulf War.

The second thing I noticed was a real sense of foreboding, even among the people who greeted me effusively because they thought I was an American.

The streets of Baghdad were edgy and frightening, and they stank of sewage and uncollected rubbish.

I went to one of my favourite haunts, the ancient Mustansiriyah University beside the Tigris. There was a sudden outbreak of shooting across the river.

"Just people frightening off the looters," said my Iraqi producer. "But this is just the beginning of the trouble. You'll see."

Comforting thought

We stopped off at a shop I used to visit 12 years earlier. The owner was a clever, wary man from the Kurdish north who had never dared to criticise Saddam Hussein even when we had been alone.

"Thanks to God he is gone," said the shopkeeper now. "But you cannot expect to get rid of Saddam and find that everything is suddenly good. His mark will always be on this country."

Nowadays, people are terrified of crime. There have been more than 10,000 kidnappings, of which at least 1,000 ended in murder

Still, people did expect that things would slowly get better.

"At least," said a man I had known in the past, and who offered me a cup of sharp-tasting citrus tea, "the Americans will put us on our feet again".

It was a comforting thought. Things had been bad in Iraq throughout the period of UN sanctions: water shortages, power-cuts, inadequate hospitals, a collapsing transport system.

But it hasn't happened like that. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran the country under Paul Bremer, was almost ludicrously incompetent, wasting or misusing tens of millions of dollars.

Unknown amounts were stolen. In 2004 the CPA could not account for $9bn in Iraqi oil revenue.

Children in Baghdad
Building work is scarce: Baghdad is not being transformed

Despite the investment that has undoubtedly taken place, virtually all basic services are in a worse state now than they were before the invasion.

There is less clean water, less sewage control, less gas, less petrol, less power. Baghdad now has an average of only 5.8 hours of electricity a day. At present Iraq is producing 1.8 million barrels of oil a day; just before the invasion the figure was 2.5 million barrels a day.

Much of this isn't the fault of the coalition: power, water and oil are particular targets for the insurgents. But the failure of the coalition to protect these supplies makes people angry.

Whenever I drive through the streets of Baghdad now I am struck by the lack of building work.

Let me take you on a drive through the Baghdad streets. The first thing you'll notice is the traffic: one of the coalition's successes is the extent of car ownership, even if the shortage of fuel means there are queues half a mile long outside many petrol stations.

The second is the shops. They're full of goods nowadays, and plenty of people brave the possibility of car bombs to throng them.

Things are expensive and inflation is high. So is unemployment: perhaps above 50%. There is malnutrition, and the level of infant mortality is still disturbingly high. But in the cities, at any rate, most people seem to get by.

Abiding anger

What you don't see is building work. You would expect the capital city of a country which is undergoing a programme of major reconstruction to be full of cranes. It simply isn't happening. Baghdad is not being transformed; it's scarcely changed from the time of the first Gulf War, except for the buildings which the coalition bombed.

If you see a US patrol, you should brake sharply and keep away from it. The gunners on the vehicles kill people every day for getting too close to them. Every Iraqi has a horror story about a friend or relative who misunderstood an instruction, often in English, and was shot at.

But there's one unquestioned success for the coalition: every available wall has a tattered election poster on it. True, three months after the last election Iraq still has no government, but the old terror of authority has evaporated.

There are dozens of newspapers, plenty of television channels, and hundreds of thousands of satellite dishes: under Saddam Hussein, you could be jailed for having one.

Nowadays, though, people are terrified of crime. There have been more than 10,000 kidnappings, of which at least 1,000 ended in murder.

Having a good job is particularly dangerous. Kidnappers have attacked 76 schools, killing more than 300 schoolteachers in the process.

About 200 university lecturers have been murdered since the invasion. After the murder of a television boss a week ago, the journalists' union formally asked the government to allow journalists to carry weapons.

Few Iraqis will even think about the anniversary of the invasion. Many are still glad that Saddam Hussein was taken off their backs.

But there is a real, abiding anger that the richest nation on Earth should have taken over their country and made them even worse off in so many ways than they were before.




JOHN SIMPSON'S COLUMN

Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad is pulled down True predictions
Three years Saddam Hussein's regime fell, what has gone wrong in Iraq?

MORE FROM SIMPSON'S VIEW

 


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