The price of Iraqi democracy

With thousands killed after the 2003 US invasion and little social change, Iraqi's have paid a high price for democracy.


    In every Iraqi household ‎I've ever visited there are pictures of people who've died a violent death. Every Iraqi has a tale of someone they know who died in horrible circumstances. Schools have pictures of teachers in remembrance. It's the same in Hospitals. The memory of violent death is everywhere.

    Iraqi's do want to move on and April's election was ‎a good way as any to do so, but at what cost? What is the acceptable cost of democracy? It's a question many are asking as the election results are released to the public.

    ‎Since the invasion in 2003 over 130,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed according the website Iraq Body Count.

    This is a careful and conservative estimate. Other surveys taking into account population growth and other methods put the death toll at just under half a million.

    Over 4,000 western troops died.

    The financial cost to the Americans, according to a study by American university Brown, is 2 trillion dollars. ‎Bring into account future expenses such as medical, disability and you could be talking 4 trillion dollars over the next 40 years.

    Add to that the cost of infrastructure. $212bn reconstructing Iraq‎, with most of that cash going to security. Or lost to waste and fraud. That's according to the US treasury department.

    Other reports indicate the US achieved very little in terms of social change. Healthcare was rolled back. Armed groups become more powerful. Women's rights set back.

    That's the cost of democracy. ‎For many Iraqi's it's a price that's far too high. Few want to see US troops back on the ground here, or even a return to the days of Saddam Hussien but many question whether it was worth it.

    Jabar Mahmoud is a shop owner. He's typical of the vast majority of suburban business owners across Iraq. His life revolves around his family, the mosque and his business. Much the same as it did under Saddam Hussien. "I would have prefered a change from within. Not an invasion. If we knew it would be mass bloodshed and killing after the Americans came and left, who would want this life?"

    Firas Sabah is 29. He's unemployed. With no job, he can't get married. He feels he's stuck in a loop. "The change should have come way before the Americans came here. We Iraqi's were oppressed by the former regime, but at least it was secure and peaceful."

    Across Iraq I hear bittersweet ‎words when describing the situation. For many Shia Muslims the chance to be open in thier views and faith is a crucial. Journalists will tell you there are challenges in Iraq, but at least they can report much more openly than before.

    Those who voted say they are proud that they could drop that ballot paper into the box. All will tell you that the price Iraq paid for this was too high.

    On election day one man, Saif, I spoke to summed up that sentiment. ‎"If you're asking me, would I rather vote than have my father and brother with me, then of course, who cares about democracy? My father and brother died in 2006, when Iraq was tearing itself apart due to sectarian voilence. ‎This vote means nothing. It's for the politicians. Not for me. Voting won't bring back my family. It won't even bring me electricity."

    Perhaps in decades to come, when Iraq's war generation has passed from one to another, Iraqi's will look at this period as one of painful change. That the price they paid for democracy and security was worth it. Perhaps. The memories of the dead and suffering have a way of transcending generations through books and words, images and memories.

    Follow Imran Khan on Twitter: @AJImran



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