Iraqis Eke Out a Living Under Saddam

Ask to meet a typical Iraqi family and the government here, which escorts and monitors foreign media almost everywhere, will introduce you to Khalid Issa.

Issa worked as a school principal for some 15 years. He has since started selling used appliances and subsequently doubled his income, to about $50 a month. That makes him middle class, by Iraqi standards.

But his life is still not very easy. Two of his three children suffer from a blood disorder. And the expensive drugs he needs to treat the children are difficult to obtain because of U.N. sanctions.

And then there is the threat all Iraqis share: a possible military strike from American and British aircraft, which have struck against military targets in Iraq on a regular basis over the last 10 years.

"The children are living with fear," Issa said in an interview. "A rocket might fall into the living room, bedroom, kitchen. They ask me: ‘Dad, what is going to happen tomorrow?'"

It has been thee years since Iraq expelled U.N. weapons inspectors from the country, which resulted in a series of military strikes here in the Iraqi capital. Most of the buildings hit in those raids have been repaired.

Not that those images can be seen by anyone outside of Iraq. Government security restrictions prevent television news crews from showing the buildings on camera.

One thing the Iraqis are proud to show off is the entrance to Baghdad's finest hotel. For nearly a decade, guests there have stomped on a mosaic of former President George Bush that is on the floor of the lobby.

And despite the difficulties the people here face, many Iraqis still celebrate their dictator, Saddam Hussein. His image is everywhere, and can even be found on the local currency.

The money is almost worthless, however. Before the Gulf War, an Iraqi dinar was worth about three dollars. Today, it is less than one penny.

That makes carrying around any significant amount of money quite a challenge. Convert $100 and you will need a garbage bag instead of a wallet to haul it away.

That isn’t much of an issue for most Iraqis, whose earnings average about two dollars a day. But that’s a lot less than the $25,000 Saddam has offered the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Most Iraqis don’t know that, or keep to themselves any objections they might have.

"It is a matter of principal for us to help the Palestinians, we will do so without any threat or hesitation," said Yahroob Jihad, an Iraqi street vendor.

In fact, reliable information seems to be the scarcest commodity here in Iraq. All news is controlled by the government, and has been for decades. And the government’s anti-American propaganda resonates among many Iraqis.

"Let 'em go to hell! We are not afraid," proclaimed Faheema Mohsan, a grandmother who makes her living selling plastic bags in a Baghdad market. "As long as there is God — our president is here and are our people. We are not afraid."