- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

BAGHDAD — This capital’s murder rate has climbed to 20 times what it was under Saddam Hussein and 10 times that of New York City, adding to the uncertainty created by car bombs and a wave of kidnappings for ransom.

Iraqi citizens complain that the freedoms, accomplishments and opportunities of life without Saddam are clouded by the violence.

“Life has gone from bad to worse,” said Wofah Hamed, 40, a computer specialist and mother of two. “I can’t go out alone. I must have somebody to guard me, either my husband or my son or my brother.”

The new government sworn in last week understands that the public will judge it on how well it deals with the lawlessness.

“Our main priorities are: number one, security; number two, security; and number three, security,” said Adnan al-Jenabi, one of three new ministers of state.

But political expectations have changed rapidly since Saddam’s fall.

Elections are scheduled for January, and a national conference will convene this month to begin the process of creating a constitution that will be ratified in time for another set of elections in December 2005.

“Iraqis will no longer accept one leader or number-one personality,” said Jawad al-Attar, a director of the Iraqi Action Organization, a moderate Shi’ite charity. “Even anyone who’s elected is a servant of the people. If he falls short in his job, people have the opportunity to throw him aside.”

Newly won freedoms for Iraq’s young include the freedom to speak, watch satellite television, surf the Internet and even drink alcohol, which were legal but discouraged during the last decade of Saddam’s rule. But such freedoms mean little when young people are shut inside their homes.

“We used to go out late at night to clubs, sometimes until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.,” said Seif al-Kadi, an 18-year-old architecture student. “Now, we have to be home by 9.”

Even among members of Iraq’s new political class, there’s a sense that violence and fear threaten to overwhelm the country. Raja al-Khuzai, an outspoken Iraqi politician serving on a commission to create a new Iraqi constitution, said she misses the simpler things in life.

“We couldn’t open our mouth and talk in Saddam’s time, but I could go shopping,” she said. “Now I can’t go shopping, because I’m in the government.”

Many aspects of daily life have improved in Iraq. Salaries for state employees have increased dramatically; civil servants, who had been paid as little as a few dollars a month, now earn about $150.

In the business world, entrepreneurs have found new breathing room. In the past year, financial analyst Muhsen Shansal has met with foreign counterparts and international businessmen and has established a successful consulting business.

To get rich before Saddam’s fall, businessmen had to establish connections to the Mukhabarat, his spy service.

“If you were not linked with it, you couldn’t do good business,” he said.

But saboteurs continue to hammer away at the country’s electricity infrastructure and target the foreign contractors who have come to repair it.

Parts of the capital — where temperatures soar to as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer — still receive no more than 12 hours of electricity a day, a festering problem that drags down the economy as well as the country’s morale.

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