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Is there an Iraqi generation gap?

I realized yesterday that, of all the images I've seen of cheering Iraqis thanking the United States for liberating them, I can only remember seeing images of older Iraqi men, in their mid-30s at the youngest. And when I've seen or read about younger Iraqis in the news, it's been as fedayeen, prisoners and looters.

I have no idea if that actually means anything. It's not surprising that soldiers and more aggressive looters should tend to be younger, of course. And I haven't seen much TV at all lately (have I seen too small a sample?), and even if I'd seen more, it still wouldn't necessarily indicate much.

The thing is, though, it wouldn't be surprising for Iraq's different age groups to tend toward different views. They grew up in markedly different worlds: Iraq's older citizens are among the best-educated in the Arab world, on average, but the generation now in its 20s, all born under Saddam's regime, are among the least-educated — and they were raised to believe the United States, through the imposition of the economic sanctions on Iraq, was to blame for their oppressive lack of opportunity. For some of them, it may be too late to learn an alternative to hatred.

The larger question is how Iraq's different age groups view the future of their country, and what they intend to do about it. Given the radically different worlds they grew up in, can they still share a common vision?

April 15, 2003 12:31 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

It's unseemly for the ladies of your household to be seen ranting and raving in the arab street, unless, of course, that's all that's left of your household (eg. when women protested the absence of their husbands and and male children from Saddam's mass prison release before the war).



Posted by rob adams on April 15, 2003 1:58 PM

I say, that's generation gap, not gender gap, truly.

Posted by M on April 15, 2003 4:18 PM

To be fair, they were denied a lot of opportunity because of our sanctions. That loss may be balanced by the restriction of Saddam's power over the last 12 years but that's going to be a hard sell to the youth of Iraq.

Posted by Dave Adams on April 15, 2003 8:20 PM

I think I saw something in the Post, or maybe from Jon Anderson's New Yorker pieces, about a father who celebrated the US's arrival, while his son (10 years old or something) was angry about it. The father apologized, and said that even in his home with his children he did not contradict Saddam.

Posted by claxy on April 15, 2003 11:04 PM

that's going to be a hard sell to the youth of Iraq.

Yeah, that's what I'm wondering -- how hard a sell? And what will they do if they don't like the terms? If it's too late, and there's nothing we can do to convince this generation of Iraqis that the U.S. presence might be good for their country, what then?

Posted by M on April 16, 2003 10:46 AM

Curiously, i observed a good number of 'utes running amok in and around Saddam's fallen iron-head, never mind a good many under-30's jumping about his body as well.

Let's remember that, from observation, the average non-American tends to look circa 5-years older than his/her American counterpart. Seriously.

Also, i'm not so sure that a lack of higher-ed or proper lower-ed in Iraq has much to do with the soon-to-be past sanctions. Although some hard sciences take material that, in theory, would be contraband, Iraq is reknowned for its teaching of liberal arts, too, not just engineering. I'd argue that the devistation of two wars (Iranian and Kuwati) had more to do with interrupting many young mens' education, if not being a party to their utter obliteration. But, sanctions?

You lose a generation in a war, or two. A whole generation. That might be something we Americans can't quite grasp, so far from Vietnam. But, literally, it happens.

From the sounds of it, some people think Iraq would have flourished under Saddam's seemingly fatherly, if not careless, rule if not hobbled by the West's mean-spirited, vicious, torterous, genocidal, and oft raping sanctions.

I tend to operate under the notion that it is he, not us, who trounced his population so wildely and enthusiastically, rape-rooms, sons losing fingers and tongues in front of fathers, and morgue-drawers turned into multi-year isolation cells in hand. But, i could be wrong, sanctions might have been far worse. Maybe i'm miscalculating the severity of one tactic to another?


Posted by rob adams on April 16, 2003 12:29 PM

Well, economic sanctions didn't help any Iraqis, and they didn't result in Saddam's eviction, nor did they probably hurt Saddam's own personal wealth. So what purpose did they serve, exactly?

I don't think Iraq would have been a spectacular gem of liberty if we hadn't put sanctions in place, but how was anyone better off because of them? Contraband and military goods are one thing, but total trade restrictions are another.

Posted by Dave Adams on April 16, 2003 7:53 PM

The Iraqi Ministry of Education states that since 1985 no new schools have been built within Iraq.

Sanctions? No.
Financing an a war-machine? Yes.


Posted by rob adams on April 17, 2003 4:17 PM

Did sanctions produce more schools?

Posted by Dave Adams on April 18, 2003 12:00 AM

I think I was probably unclear. Rob, my position is that sanctions beyond those covering military goods were pointless in punishing Saddam. I don't see how the number of schools built has anything to do with it: sanctions made it impossible to progress in those areas whether Saddam would have allowed it or not. The existence of the oil-for-food program is good enough evidence for me that the Iraqi economy was in a ruinous state that didn't exist before the sanctions were in place. In that type of environment, education doesn't mean much anyway.

In any case, you haven't answered my basic question, which is Did the sanctions do any good?

Posted by Dave Adams on April 18, 2003 12:11 AM

Did they do any good? It's hard to measure. They, certainly, added pressure to the regime, and caused the regime to funnel funds to areas other than their growing huge war-machine.

Funds not needed to prop up a meager healthsystem, not needed to pay for food subsidies, not needed for this or that social service, would have been spent on internal security and external war machines.

Iraq had plenty of cash, if Saddam had chosen not to spend it on tanks, war R&D, and his sons' various speedy racers.

So, although we cannot see the results of the sanctions, the results are there -- less MIG's, less tanks, and less losses for us and Saddam's adversaries. That was their purpose, and that was their result.

Just because sancations caused Saddam to ignore areas of his gonvernmental responsabilities has less to do with our moral obligations than his own.


Posted by rob adams on April 18, 2003 1:41 PM

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