Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Today’s Washington Post reports that almost 25,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed in 2006, with almost three quarters of the deaths occurring in the second half of the year. But here’s something you’re unlikely to read about in the Post — Iraq is making substantial economic strides.
James Roberts in the Washington Times points to an article in the end-of-the-year edition of Newsweek international called “Iraq’s Economy is Booming” by Silvia Spring. It notes that real estate prices have gone up several hundred percent since the fall of Saddam Hussein; that Iraqi workers’ salaries have increased more than 100 percent during the same period; that the number of cars in Baghdad has grown by 500 percent; that the Iraqi construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are growing substantially; that the number of registered businesses has increased four fold in three years; that taxes are lower and government revenue higher; that the Kurdish region is booming; that Iraq’s GDP grew by 17 percent in 2005, with 2006 growth projected at 13 percent by the Global Insight firm (and 4 percent by the World Bank); and that foreign investment from neighboring countries is pouring in.
So, taking into account both the level of violence and the economy, is Iraq better off now than it was under Saddam? If you’re a Sunni living in a mixed neighborhood in Baghdad, no. If you’re a Shiite living in such a neighborhood, probably not. But if you’re a Shiite living in the south or a Kurd living in the north, then you’re almost certainly much better off now.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Iraq faced a day of sectarian reckoning regardless of the conduct of the United States. The Sunnis weren’t going to be able to oppress the country’s majority indefinitely. Ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road, all hell was going to break loose. One can argue that the U.S. would be better off to be nowhere in the vicinity at that time. But it’s quite clear that Iraq is better off having the U.S. around to help limit the scope and intensity of the bloodshed.
UPDATE: Over at the Power Line Forum, reader “dmacg” points to an article in the Kuwait Times which discusses Iraq’s economic successes in more detail. It’s definitely worth a look.
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