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Iraqis better off under Saddam?

If there's one piece of conventional wisdom that is treated as unassailable by almost all commentators in the debate over the Iraq war, it's that Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam.

But is this true? This article (HT: Brian Leiter) suggests that it is not:

Iraqis Endure Worse Conditions Than Under Saddam, UN Survey Finds

Responses to a detailed survey conducted by a United Nations agency and the Iraqi government indicate that everyday conditions for Iraqis in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion have deteriorated at an alarming rate, with huge numbers of people lacking adequate access to basic services and resources such as clean water, food, health care, electricity, jobs and sanitation.

"This survey shows a rather tragic situation of the quality of life in Iraq," Barham Salih, Iraq's minister of planning, said in statement, adding: "If you compare this to the situation in the 1980s, you will see a major deterioration."

... Researchers determined that some 24,000 Iraqis died as a result of the US-led invasion in 2003 and the first year of occupation. Children below the age of 18 comprised 12 percent of those deaths, according to survey data.

The study also indicates that the invasion and its immediate aftermath forced more than 140,000 Iraqis to flee their homes.

... In addition to deaths attributed to warfare, Iraqi children have suffered from a lack of adequate nutrition since 2003, the survey reports. Data from the survey indicates that 23 percent of children between six months and five years suffer from chronic malnutrition, while 12 percent suffer from general malnutrition, and 8 percent experience acute malnutrition.

... Of the households surveyed, 51 percent of those in urban areas of southern Iraq live in neighborhoods "where sewage could be seen in the streets." Nationwide, 40 percent of families in urban areas and 30 percent in rural areas reported living in neighborhoods where they can see sewage in the streets.

Iraqis are not fairing much better with respect to clean sources of water. The survey indicates that only 54 percent of households nationwide have access to a "safe and stable" supply of drinking water. An estimated 722,000 Iraqis, the report also notes, rely on sources that are both unreliable and unsafe.

I'm not necessarily endorsing the claim that Iraqis are worse off now. I'm not rejecting it either; truth be told, I simply haven't looked at it in enough detail to make that judgment. But certainly the received wisdom on this issue--as on most issues--needs to be questioned.

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