Freedom, Yes, Iraqis Say, But at Great, Grave Cost
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
BAGHDAD, March 20 -- By almost any standard, Bashar Muhammed, the owner of a thriving Internet cafe, is a Baghdad success story. Three years after the United States invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein, the Internet business here is booming, and Muhammed has what most Iraqis could only dream of under Hussein -- freedom, a cutting-edge job, lots of customers.
But when conversation turns to his life and prospects, he sighs and voices frustration that Americans just don't get it.
"It is true that we got freedom after the war, but uncontrolled freedom -- chaos and violence," he said in a cool, deliberate tone. Five of his relatives have been killed in car bombings and assassinations, Muhammed said, noting that most recently an uncle was killed for being a Sunni Arab.
"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."
As Iraqis on Monday marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, there was a stark difference between their pessimistic outlook and some U.S. officials' upbeat assessment of the situation. With insurgent violence grinding on, essential services sagging below pre-invasion levels and the prospect of civil war looming, many Iraqis question whether Hussein's ouster was worth the cost.
Many thousands of their countrymen have been killed. In December, President Bush estimated the Iraqi toll at 30,000.
Laith Muhammad, 32, a student in Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, listed the risks Iraqis face these days. "We either die by the Americans, the insurgents in the name of jihad, the security companies, which kill you and leave you laying in the street, the Iraqi police or . . . the death squads," he said. Such squads are widely believed to be operating from within the country's Interior Ministry. Muhammad cited private militias as yet another threat.
"Three years after the American invasion of Iraq, I have only one wish," he said. "I do not want democracy, food, electricity and water. I just do not want to die."
Other Iraqis, however, are less quick to blame the United States.
Sardar Muhsin Maheed, 25, a student at Mosul University, said too many people blamed the occupation for all of Iraq's ills. He traced most problems to Hussein, suggesting that issues such as the poor economy are legacies of the ousted president.
"The U.S. has liberated us from Saddam and his oppression," he said. "We are not ready to form a democratic state, and that is because of the burden left by Saddam's regime."
Another of Hussein's legacies, he said, was sectarian tension in the country. An Iraqi government has been democratically elected, but the politicians and their parties are creating a new Iraq based on religious and ethnic interests.