Politics & Policy

Are Iraqis Better Off?

Is that a joke?

For weeks, I’ve been hearing members of the media ask self-described pundits whether Iraqis are better off today than they were four months ago. Am I the only person who thinks this is a stupid question?

Ask the average third-grade child if he would be better off if the meanest bully in the class got expelled. Ask the average single female if she would be better off if the serial rapist who was terrorizing her neighborhood was finally jailed. See what they would say. Have people lost their minds or simply their common sense?

Are they better off? I say, ask the Iraqis, not the people who want to speak for them on cable news. Better yet, let’s ask the very people who were terrorized most severely under Saddam Hussein: the women of Iraq.

Under Saddam’s reign, the evil dictator and his posse of thugs not only targeted men who threatened his power, they routinely and sadistically included Iraqi women and children in their “training” exercises. Rape, torture, and murder were all condoned, if not encouraged.

For years, I had heard stories from Iraqi Americans of Saddam’s vicious rule — most of which, frankly, seemed unbelievable — like something out of a twisted horror novel. My mother, an Assyrian native of Baghdad herself, would tell me things that were far too unspeakable for public consumption.

However, it wasn’t until late 2001 that I truly grasped the depth of evil in the Iraqi leadership. An article from the September 2001 issue of Maxim magazine, of all places, detailed the gruesome legacy that President Bush later revealed to the world in his State of the Union address last January 29. The article was the most disturbing one I had ever read, and still is. It recounted a story of Saddam’s son Uday, who was known for preying on young, beautiful Iraqi women. One woman in particular, a college student, who refused his advance, was quickly taken from her home, hauled off to a remote compound in the desert, and for months experienced rape and torture.

When Uday finally had enough of her, he decided upon a creative disposal. Ordering his guards to stop feeding his Dobermans for two weeks, he had the girl stripped, lathered with honey, and fed to the starving animals. I doubt Uday or his father batted an eye.

And this was just one example of the Hussein family’s high esteem for women. Sure, this is one of the worst cases reported, but a number of Iraqis have told me that not a single family escaped the terror of the Saddam regime. If only they could be sure that Saddam Hussein was gone for good, they’d be shouting their stories from the rooftops. You can be sure of that.

So, ask yourself: Are Iraqis better off today than they were four months ago? Let’s use some common sense, since many seem to be lacking it these days: Millions of Iraqis are experiencing freedom for the first time in their lives; Iraqi women are safe from the governmental threat of rape, torture, and murder; Saddam’s two ferocious sons are now confirmed dead; a democratic government has just been formed; and allied forces have lost fewer soldiers than expected. Better off? Yes — and when you consider how much better off they are, it’s hard to get caught up in a debate about those “16 words.”

Angela J. Phelps is an Assyrian American whose mother is a native of Baghdad.

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