Iraqi living standards still low, ten years on from U.S.-led invasion

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Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the government in Baghdad is under pressure to do more to raise living standards for its population.

Many Iraqis complain that after a decade of rebuilding, they still lack basic public services such as satisfactory electricity and water supplies.

But others say Iraq's long road to recovery has produced signs of an economic renaissance, reflected in new shopping malls and luxury car showrooms.

There's little outward sign of discontent among visitors to Baghdad's main fairground.

It's busy here most of the week but particularly so on Friday, a rest day across the Arab world.

This is where young couples court, and where families take their children for a treat.

For Baidar Ta'ar, it's a chance to put her worries to one side and share the fun of a fairground carousel with her five year old son Hassan.

Her husband Hisham takes their younger son four year old Hussein for a ride as well.

The family isn't wealthy - he's a baker, she's still a student - but Baidar is broadly satisfied with the government's performance so far.

“Things aren't bad,” she says. “But we do need security for our children. Sometimes it's safe and we say there's nothing to worry about - then sometimes it isn't safe.”

There's been big investment in the oil sector since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and Iraq is now the second-biggest producer in OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

That has boosted the economy and led to the opening of smart shopping centers and showrooms selling expensive cars.

The capital's road network has improved, and there are times when scenic areas of the city Centre, such as Firdous Square, simply gleam. But Firdous is no ordinary square.

It represents an opportunity to take stock of the past ten years, because it was here that a giant statue of Saddam Hussein used to stand - until it was famously pulled down at the end of the war in 2003.

Local resident Abdul Aziz al-Kubeisi was an eyewitness on that historic day, and he is scathing about how little has been achieved since then.

“Really, nothing has changed,” he says. “Things have gone from bad to worse.”

To back up his view, al-Kubeisi points to districts of Baghdad such as al-Rasul, a poor neighborhood where the roads are full of potholes, and the houses are linked by jumbles of loose power cables.

It's even worse just outside al-Rasul where a shanty town has sprung up on the ruins of a former military base.

Many locals attempt to make a living as laborers at a giant rubbish tip that is nearby.

Mehdi al-Daraji, a father of four, lives in a makeshift dwelling in al-Rasul.

Despite the poverty of his surroundings, he retains an old-fashioned sense of courtesy, serving guests from an elegant golden coffeepot.

But courtesy has its limits, and al-Daraji is scathing when asked whether the Iraqi government - widely accused of corruption - has performed well.

“Ten years have passed, and I still have no proper home, no public services, no electricity, no running water, no education for our children, no schools,” he complains.

Al-Daraji believes that if the economic legacy of the war does turn out to be positive, it may be the next generation,
not this one that gets to see it.