Iraq remains a nation of extremes. I travelled there in the Summer of 2000 with a team from US News and World Report, including photographer Ken Jarecke and writers Warren Strobel and Kevin Whitelaw.
We discovered an isolated country still suffering from the aftermath of two devastating wars, 10 years of economic sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s continuing dictatorship. During our two weeks there, we split up into teams, and Warren and I spent a week in Baghdad and then travelled widely in the north through Iraqi Kurdistan.


Once among the Middle East's most progressive countries, Iraq has seen its economic, educational and health systems collapse. Under the shadow of Saddam's numerous grand palaces ("you cannot photograph those" our government minders would say without smiling) the lives of the Iraqi people have gotten more desperate. The dinar, the country's official currency has been so devalued that large sums of bills are not counted, they are weighed.

Professional salaries average about $20-30 a month and family posessions are sold off in nightly auctions. As I watched working age men spend countless idle hours in downtown Baghdad's tea houses, the sense of their despair was almost palpable.

Travelling in the Iraqi Kurdistan was notably different. If anything, the lives of the Kurds have improved since the end of the Gulf War. The NATO planes that patrol the no-fly zone have stopped Saddam Hussein's military aggression while UN sponsored food and health programs have helped provide a decent standard of living along with a new sense of calm. A healthly smuggling operation from the Turkish border fuels the economy and brings in modern trappings like Sony Playstations and TV satellite dishes.

As our US News team met up again in Baghdad, we said goodbye to our government guides, paid our hotel bill using huge stacks of money, and left a country that semed to be sliding backwards towards a more remote place on the world's stage.

David Butow

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