I'm an Iraqi native. I was born in 1988, just four months before the end of the Iraq-Iran war, then survived the Iraq-Kuwait one, and the American attack as a three year old. I lived through the US-enforced sanctions that did absolutely nothing to Saddam, while severely harming the Iraqi people in so many ways. I then survived yet another war in 2003 and went through the horrific times that took the lives of so many good people.
But was it really safer back then? Did the Americans really help Iraqis? Was it worse before 2003?! I think those are all misguided questions, and here's why:
Iraq was a really wealthy country back in the 1980s, and even though it went through an eight-year long war against Iran, its economy wasn't affected that much, and Saddam was able to rebuild much of what was destroyed in a matter of months. But then Kuwait was lowering oil prices to harm the Iraqi economy in a time we needed money most (post 1988) and Iraq/Saddam tried to talk them out of it on several occasions, but they didn't back out. So Saddam came up with the idea that Kuwait was historically a part of Iraq, and that he should claim it back!
While that claim is historically true, it wasn't exactly right to just go and invade Kuwait and kill a lot of its people! But he did it anyways. The result was that the US attacked Iraq, killing many of innocent people in the process. The Iraqi people fought back, and the US finally backed out. They later enforced the sanctions that left Iraq cut out from the rest of the world and slowly killed the Iraqis!
At the time, my father was a Biology Ph.D student, and my mother was a teacher. I had a little sister and an older brother. And since my father was teaching in college before his Ph.D, the government paid him while he studied. They paid him 8000 Dinars/month, the equivalent of $4. My mother's salary was 3000 Dinars, the equivalent of $1.50. A family of five people was living off of $5.50/month, and that was the case for pretty much all low-level government employees during the 1990s.
It took my father four years to finish his Ph.D in 1998. Those four years were by far the worst I've lived, and I've lived through some serious shit, trust me.
After 1998, things started to go just a little bit better. Saddam was sensing his end, and so he tried to make a few improvements in salaries and services. He even tried to introduce a controlled-version of satellite TV as well as wireless cellphones. But he didn't have time to finish, because in 2003, America struck again. This time with the intention of removing Saddam from power, and yet again, killed thousands of innocent people in the process. But there was a particular difference this time, the Iraqi people weren't willing to fight back. They just sat back while the US Army took over.
And this is why this, and all similar questions, are misguided. Iraq was safer and much wealthier back in the 1980s; it was the United States that made it so poor and horrible through the 1991 attack and the sanctions. And then, it came back in 2003 to save the Iraqi people from what they've done themselves after they (the Iraqi people) have grown to hate their way of life so much that they were OK with anyone coming in to change it!
And that, my friend, was the most hypocritical move in modern history! To add insult to injury, the 2003 war didn't change things much. It actually made matters worse! Instead of people living really safely but extremely poor, the picture flipped, and people became somewhat wealthy, but safety was gone with the wind. People had one Saddam to be afraid of, now they have hundreds! They used to live safely by keeping their mouth shut, now they can't even if they do. Iraqis were being killed for having the wrong religion, the wrong place of birth, and a lot of the time, the wrong name. 2006 was worse than 1991 and 2003 combined. Militias took over, and it was chaos.
After 2007, things started to get a little better. Babylon, the city I live in, was getting much safer, but Baghdad and a few other cities were still dangerous. It took some time for them to become relatively safe. But every now and then, we still get a few car bombings, suicide bombings, or at least a few kidnappings here and there.
My father now makes about $3000/month, my mother about a quarter of that, and we live really comfortably financially. But so far, my brother has survived one car bombing, and I about four, and that's only because we live in a safe city. Chances are I would have already lost a family member if we lived in Baghdad.
It might seem that I think the US forces backed down in 1991 because the Iraqis fought back. Please note that I'm not suggesting that, but rather stating the Iraqis' readiness to fight back then in contrast with what happened in 2003.
So, there's your answer. I worked remotely with a startup in NYC, I visited the US for three months in 2010, and I've now come back to the US on a scholarship to pursue an MSCS at Texas A&M. I have so many good friends here, and I know how Americans are sorry and ashamed for what their country did to mine. So I personally don't blame the American people for all what I and other Iraqis have been through, but facts remain facts, and a lot of Iraqi people really hate the Americans for what they did.
I find it sad that no one can see that the American people aren't really to blame, or at least find it in themselves to forgive them, because it's always the leadership that does all of this, just like our leadership (Saddam) caused the death of so many Kuwaitis back in 1991.
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