Everyone who looks at Iraq sees a nation divided between Shia, Sunni, and Kurd communities. But an equally fundamental division – one that has contributed as much to the ongoing insurrection as sectarian strife and opposition to the American-led military occupation – is the widening gap between Iraq’s rich and poor.
When Iraq was liberated, most people, especially the poor, began to hope for a charismatic leader who would save them from the bitter reality of daily life. Raised in fear, they had no idea how democracy could apply to their society, or how human-rights groups and other civic organizations could help shape the future.
Soon enough, Iraq was faced with a new social divide. On one side stood people who understood how to operate in a democracy, attain power, and realize their ambitions. They learned to speak the language of democracy, gaining money and influence in the process and enlisting independent organizations to defend their rights and privileges.
On the other side, however, remains the vast population of powerless Iraqis, including widows and divorced or abandoned women with no one to provide for them and their children. For these people, democracy and human rights mean nothing. They are ignorant, poor, and sick. Victimized by an educational system that collapsed over a decade ago, they have few skills that can help them find employment in Iraq’s blighted economy.