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Iraqis Cite Shift in Attitudes Since Vote

Mood Seen Moving Against Insurgency

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 7, 2005; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 -- With a hero who gave his life for the elections, a revived national anthem blaring from car stereos and a greater willingness to help police, the public mood appears to be moving more clearly against the insurgency in Iraq, political and security officials said.

In the week since national elections, police officers and Iraqi National Guardsmen said they have received more tips from the public, resulting in more arrests and greater effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the violent insurgency rocking the country.

"Now we are considered number one guardians of the country," said Katham Abbas Hamza, an Iraqi police colonel. (Photos Doug Struck -- The Washington Post)

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None of the officials said they believed the violence was over. An attack Sunday on a police station in Mahawil, 50 miles south of Baghdad, left 22 policemen and National Guardsmen and 14 attackers dead, the Associated Press reported. The incident was a bloody end to a day in which at least nine other Iraqis were reported slain, and a U.S. soldier was killed and two others were wounded north of the capital. Four Egyptian engineers were kidnapped and two insurgent groups issued statements threatening to kill an Italian journalist who was taken hostage on Friday.

But officials in Baghdad said a relative lull in violence in the capital has fueled the sense that something has fundamentally changed since the vote. A change of attitudes in Baghdad could make a crucial difference in the battle against the insurgency, and a buoyed sense of civic pride is already beginning to change the way the public treats the police, authorities say.

"They saw what we did for them in the election by providing safety, and now they understand this is their army and their sons," said Sgt. Haider Abudl Heidi, a National Guardsman wearing a flak jacket at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

Reports from Iraqis reflected a similar shift in attitudes in large areas of the north and south, although authorities acknowledged that in some parts of the country, people remain hostile to the emerging Iraqi authority and supportive, to varying degrees, of the insurgents.

The insurgency began to emerge soon after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, on a tide of anger over the U.S. occupation. But in interviews over the past week, officials and Baghdad residents cited what they called a renewed nationalist pride since the elections that they said may be dampening anti-American sentiment, and may be starting to dispel Iraqi tolerance and support for the insurgents.

"I feel very optimistic that things will change for the better because of the strong turnout in the elections. That reinforced our faith and gave us a sense of change for the better," said Ali Jassem, 32, the manager of a bakery in Baghdad.

"You can feel the situation has changed," said Haider Abdul Hussein, 30, a pharmacy owner. "People seem to linger on the street longer. You can feel the momentum, the sense of optimism."

Part of that mood change is credited to Abdul Amir, Iraq's newest national hero. On election day, Amir, 30, a policeman in Baghdad, noticed a man walking toward a polling station who appeared to be carrying something heavy under his coat. Amir wrapped his arms around the man and dragged him away from the crowd. A belt of explosives wrapped around the man blew both men to shreds.

Members of Iraq's interim cabinet have touted Amir as a symbol of national pride. Newspapers have been filled with stories about him. A statue is being planned, and the elementary school that served as the polling station where he died may change its name to honor him.

"It's too simple to say what he did was heroic," said Najat Abdul Sattar, the principal of the school, where bright-eyed children study in dim concrete classrooms just yards from where Amir was killed. "What more honor could we give the man?"

"When people saw what he did, they said we will not let those violent people intimidate us, and they went to vote in even greater numbers. Where there were three or four in line, after the blast there were 30 or 40," said Mohammed Hadithi, who lives near the school.

The change has also been evident in the recent popularity of "My Homeland," a mournful song that was banned by Hussein but has been revived as a national anthem. Iraqis sing along to the paean to Iraqi glory and nationalism as it blares from radios and from speakers propped up outside storefronts in the capital.

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