Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Ordinary Iraqis Find Little Happiness In Daily Life

A mother shows the wedding ring of her son, Al'a Sabah, who was killed in a mortar attack days before his planned marriage (AFP) BAGHDAD, August 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Violence and chaos in Iraq have forced more than 4 million Iraqis to leave their homes -- and more than 2 million of those have fled the country since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Many of those who remain in Iraq face life-threatening dangers and enormous difficulties that make survival a daily struggle.

It is little wonder that many ordinary Iraqis say moments of happiness have become rare in their lives.

Ali is one Iraqi who says that the security situation affects almost every aspect of his life. A well-educated resident of Baghdad in his 30s, Ali told Radio Free Iraq that he wants to find hope and happiness in post-Saddam Iraq, but he feels that is impossible when basic needs are not being met.

"Even the wedding procession that was one of the simplest expressions of happiness for the neighborhood -- even this happiness has become constrained, for fear of terrorism."

"Happiness is abandoning the Iraqis. I don't believe that there is any Iraqi who can be truly happy," Ali said. "Happiness arises from the precursors to such happiness -- such as the country being stable, or the country being secure, or a person's basic needs and requirements being [fulfilled]. By this, I mean the services he needs for his daily existence, such as water and electricity. But these have long since gone by the wayside. We pray to God for wide, smiling, happiness on the faces of the Iraqis."

No Services, Little Money

Anwar, another Baghdad resident, is married and in his 40s. He says Iraq's war-damaged economy has reduced his pay to under $6 per day and his family to crushing poverty.

"I regret to say that I have not felt comfortable for a long time. For example, when I'm tired and go home tired, there is no electricity or such things. There are no services. Even those at home are suffering because of this," Anwar said. "I am a poor man, financially poor, so where is my comfort going to come from?"

"Even our clothes are not up to standard, like other people," Anwar continued. When his son finished a year at school, "I could not even buy a present or anything to make him happy. A bar of chocolate is what I ended up buying for him. But a toy or something that he could play with during the summer vacation -- no, there's nothing like that."

Husayn, a government employee in his early 30s, is economically more secure than others. But he says the threat of sectarian violence and terrorist attacks forces workers to risk their lives just to get to work. University professors often skip their lectures out of safety concerns, and students' lives have also been transformed.

"The joy of graduating is no longer felt by a student when he finishes high school and goes on to university. That's because he knows that there will be bombings at the college, and on the way there," Husayn said. A student "might gain entry to a college in a 'hot-spot' governorate, and then have to try for a transfer."

Even social occasions meant to be celebrations of happiness are no longer joyful because of the threat of suicide attacks, Husayn said.

"Even the wedding procession that was one of the simplest expressions of happiness for the neighborhood -- the neighbors, friends, children, the [whole] street -- even this happiness has become constrained, for fear of terrorism," he said. "People are afraid of [a suicide bomber] coming in to join the celebrants for lunch.... There also is fear of the religionists, who may claim that such a procession is sacrilegious and that it must be an Islamic procession."

"Our hope remains that this fairy-tale entity known as 'happiness' might one day return to the land of Iraq," Husayn said.

A Brief Respite

Iraqis felt some fleeting moments of joy this summer when the country's multi-ethnic soccer team triumphed at the Asian Cup finals in Kuala Lumpur.

Crowds of Iraqis celebrated in the streets of Baghdad on July 25 after the team defeated South Korea to advance to the finals.

Celebrations after Iraq's soccer victory were cut short by bombings (AFP)

The semifinal victory raised the hopes of Iraqis like Abud Ahmed -- not just about a sports victory, but also hopes for a future in which all Iraqis -- Sunnis, Shi'a, Kurds, Turkomans, and others -- can live and work together peacefully.

"I am very happy because this happiness is not only for the team, but for all the Iraqis! God willing, that joy will prevail!" Ahmed said.

But within an hour of the semifinal victory, car bomb attacks killed more than 50 people celebrating on the streets of Baghdad.

That left many residents feeling as if they'd been denied the chance to share even one night of joy together over the victory of their national soccer team.

Meanwhile, ongoing violence -- like the coordinated attacks that killed at least 400 people in northern Iraq on August 14 -- continues to afflict the country.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2 million people have fled Iraq in search of more secure and stable living conditions abroad.

One Baghdad resident, who asked that his name not be used, told Radio Free Iraq that even those who have left the country have a hard time finding happiness.

"Those who leave Iraq -- those traveling or emigrating -- are looking for happiness and for comfort. But despite their different circumstances, they are still unhappy. And even if they manage to find happiness, it is an artificial happiness. At best, they find a kind of happiness that cannot heal the wounds of being separated from their families, their people, their friends, and their memories back in Iraq. Their happiness in exile will remain incomplete because they miss the gathering [of friends and family], and they lack the celebration of such happiness."

(RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz contributed to this report from Prague.)

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

SUBSCRIBE For weekly news and analysis on Iraq by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Iraq Report."