April 22, 2003
The Middle Class

UPI: The Fate of Iraq's Middle Class

Iraq had no middle class to speak of until the oil boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

At the turn of the previous century, Baghdad sprawled across a mere tenth of its current area. However, since then and as late as 1987, the Iraqi capital was renowned throughout the Arab realm for its superior infrastructure, functioning services, splendor, conspicuous consumption and educated populace.

"Baghdadi," in many Arab dialects, meant "big spender."

Two-thirds of all Iraqi children attended secondary school, thousands studied abroad, and women actively participated in the workforce. The oil wealth attracted hundreds of thousands of menial laborers from Africa and Asia.

It was Saddam Hussein, the country's tyrant, who rattled the moribund and tradition-bound entrenched interests and ratcheted up living standards by imposing land reform, increasing the minimum wage and expanding healthcare.

Even the Iran-Iraq war, which decimated tens of thousands of intellectuals and professionals, barely dented this existence. Rather, the -- mostly Sunni -- middle class was done in by the sanctions imposed on Iraq, the aggressor in the first Gulf War, after 1991.

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