Isra and life in the "good old days"

Isra was born into an upper middle class family. Her father worked in the oil industry under Saddam. They lived in Basra, in the southern part of Iraq by the Kuwaiti border, until she was 11. She had a nice, carefree life; going to social clubs, swimming, hanging out with her friends and going to school. When the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, her father was transferred to Baghdad. In some ways the war didn’t affect her external life too much; she still continued with school, she made new friends and lived her teenaged-life. On the other hand, it deeply saddened her since she lost a lot of relatives who were sent off to fight in that war. She’s angry about that war that “was for no reason”.

In 1990, the year of the First Gulf War, her family married her to a man she didn’t much care for. They had two children. Her husband, who works with computers, used to give computer classes in the mosque, but once the sectarian war started after Saddam was toppled, this became very dangerous. Sunni mosques were the target of terrorism, men just going to pray were in danger. Men who did more than pray, such as her husband teaching computer classes, were targeted. He began to receive threatening letters. He moved around to different houses to avoid danger, but one night they came for him and took him away……

She stayed in Baghdad for a few more months making inquiries (which in itself is a dangerous thing to do) and tying up loose ends, and then she and her children escaped to Jordan and moved in with her father. (It is much easier for a woman and kids to get temporary visas than for men.) Her life there isn’t very good. Her father is dictatorial and resents having to support his daughter and grandchildren. She wants to work, but can’t get a job in Jordan. She’s praying for another country (especially the US) to let her start her life over.


I got to hear a lot about the way Iraq used to be “back in the good old days”. For Iraqis, that was in the ‘80’s before the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq was quite prosperous and that prosperity filtered down to the masses. Many things were free: Education, including graduate-level university and medical care. The word Iraqis would use to say “put gas in the car” was “yenar” to fill the tank because it cost less than a dollar to fill even a gas hog. People owned spacious, beautiful houses with gardens in the back and paid just pennies for their utilities. Wages were generally good and there was plenty to eat. They were used to having their own personal space, so it is doubly hard now to live as a whole family in one or two rooms. Especially when people, especially the men, put themselves in danger of deportation by going out.

Sunni women of Isra’s age had it good under Saddam. For one, he promoted education and work opportunities for girls. The more “liberal” families allowed their women to take advantage of it, (often more the education than the work because many times the family didn’t need the extra income.) but that included a lot of people, making Iraqis among the most highly educated of the Arabs. These things applied to all women, but the Shia also had to live with persecution, which I’ll talk about in a future blog.

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