As Iraqis marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, there was a stark difference between their pessimistic view of their future and some U.S. officials’ upbeat assessment.
With sectarian violence raging, essential services below pre-war levels and the prospect of civil war looming, many Iraqis question whether Saddam’s fall was worth the cost.
Thousands of Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, have been killed in sectarian violence since the Feb. 22 bombing of Al-Askariya shrine in the holy city of Samarra. Sunni leaders accuse death squads operated by the Shia-dominated Interior Minister of being responsible for most of the killings.
According to an article on Egypt’s Arabic Language Al-Ahram newspaper, the Iraqis might have wanted Saddam to be removed, but the deadly consequences of the overthrow were never predicted. Sunnis and Shias are killing each other, and the Kurds are preparing their breakaway in the north in the name of federalism. Meanwhile, the U.S. tightened its grip on the country after it deceived the world into thinking that invading Iraq was justified.
Out of this deception come a string of unpalatable questions: Wouldn't it have been better for Iraq, the Iraqis and all Arabs (and probably the U.S. itself) if Saddam remained in power? The Americans believe that he was a bloodthirsty tyrant who had to be removed. But did the bloodshed come to an end after the invasion?
The U.S. President George W. Bush even blamed the recent sectarian attacks on Saddam Hussein, rejecting criticism that the U.S.-led invasion and continued military presence in the war-torn country is tearing it apart.
In a speech in Washington to address what he called "legitimate" concerns about the war by many Americans, Bush said that Saddam was a brutal "tyrant" who deliberately divided Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups to keep himself in power. "Today some Americans ask whether removing Saddam caused the divisions and instability we're now seeing," Bush said. "In fact, much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein."
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid accused the American President of sending "mixed messages" on Iraq that are hurting the country's chances for success. "The president can give all the speeches he wants, but nothing will change the fact that his Iraq policy is wrong," said Reid, D-Nev. "Two weeks ago, he told the American people that Iraqis would control their country by the end of the year. But last week, he told us our troops would be there until at least 2009."
On the other hand, many Iraqis are frustrated that the Americans just don’t get it. “It is true that we got freedom after the war, but uncontrolled freedom — chaos and violence,” says Bashar Mohammad, the owner of a Baghdad Internet café, who lost five relatives in car bombings and sectarian killings. “The new generation is growing on violence and sectarian ethics, and this will affect Iraq for many years to come,” he said.
“We are living a more devastating war every day,” Mohammad said.
The Iraqis also worry over the role the occupation is playing in their country. Many Iraqis believe that what’s happening now is very convenient for their occupiers. It is all very good if the Iraqis are kidnapping and killing each other. This enables the occupiers to act as the neutral foreign party that promotes peace and understanding between the Iraqis, who up until the invasion, were very peaceful and understanding.
After the invasion, the Iraqis’ hopes have diminished to nothing. They no more want freedom or democracy, they just need to live a normal life. “We either die by the Americans, the security companies, which kill you and leave you laying in the street, the Iraqi police or ... the death squads,” says Laith Mohammad, 32, a student in Fallujah.
“Three years after the American invasion of Iraq, I have only one wish. I do not want democracy, food, electricity and water. I just do not want to die.”