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    Middle East
     Dec 22, 2005
Iraqis rue another wasted year
By Dahr Jamail and Arkan Hamed

BAGHDAD - Despite the parliamentary elections last week and temporary ease in violence, Iraqis remain bitter about the outgoing year and skeptical of 2006.

"As a doctor I usually travel daily from home to college," said Um Feras, a doctor of physics at Baghdad University who asked that her last name be changed for her protection. "[This year] was a terrible year, and now it has become unacceptable for me to leave my house to go teach due to the troops, who always wear

sunglasses even on gloomy days, aiming their rifles at everyone like they are gangsters."

The majority of Iraqis in Baghdad now fear the security forces, as dozens of people each week are "disappeared" by police and soldiers around the city; new torture chambers have been discovered recently.

Feras told Inter Press Service (IPS)the daily chaos on the streets of Baghdad, such as closed roads and bridges, causes her to be late, as well as most of her students.

"Nothing is good in Iraq now," she said. "Torture, detained friends, pillaging of houses, seeing neighbors suffering from poverty, no electricity, no water and gun fights everywhere. We have no relief from this suffering now."

Electricity in Baghdad remains far below pre-war levels, with most houses enjoying just three to five hours per day. Meanwhile, oil exports in December have sunk to a two-year low while as much as 22% of the US$21 billion set aside by the US government for reconstruction projects in Iraq has been diverted to security, Dan Speckhard, the director of the Iraq reconstruction management office, told reporters earlier this month.

Asked about her hopes and expectations for 2006, Feras said: "I only want a normal life far away from the interests of those bastards who invaded our country. I don't care about the elections and politics and the new political parties because these are just a small part of the strategy of the invaders."

She added, as she began to cry: "My dream for the coming year is that the invaders pull out, we have Iraqis who love one another to govern Iraq, we build something related to civilization and have emotions towards our land and lives in order to get back to the situation where each of us loves the other and we feel the good will of God. But I can't say this will happen."

Other Iraqis, such as 40 year-old leather worker Ismael Mohammed, feel the same.

"[This year] was worse than 2004 because the coalition forces are still handling everything tightly in their hands and nothing has changed except the faces of the governors," he told IPS in Baghdad. "They are trying to get everything they can from Iraq, meanwhile, financially it is getting worse, fuel [availability] is worse and the roads are worse."

His feelings are common around Baghdad; reports say Iraq is suffering an unemployment rate of more than 50%, oil exports remain below pre-war levels and infrastructure remains in shambles amidst the broken promises of the Bush administration.
"Democracy? Where is our democracy?" asked Mohammed who said his best day of 2005 was when one of his cousins was released from Abu Ghraib prison. "Freedom? People shout with no one to hear. Everything goes with a bribe now. You want to be a professor - easy, just give me the money and you are a professor."

Mohammed told IPS he remains sad and perplexed as to why a cousin was recently killed. "We are Shi'ite. Yet he was killed." And he has other questions.

"Who profits from this [new] constitution because we already had one? Who is profiting from all of this? Iraqi leather used to be the best all over the Middle East, but now it even seems as though the rain has stopped falling in Iraq, as my trade has stopped growing. Now we even have to import leather."

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank, the value of Halliburton stock - US Vice President Dick Cheney is a former CEO of the company and reportedly still has financial ties, has increased 138% since March 2003. Halliburton has been awarded at least $10 billion in contracts for operations in Iraq.

Meanwhile, US citizens aren't benefiting from the occupation either. The average monthly cost of the Iraq war for the US is $5.6 billion for a total of more than $225 billion to date, pushing their national debt to more than $8 trillion, according to the US Department of the Treasury.

Meanwhile, Mohammed voiced the dreams of many Iraqis for 2006. "To get rid of the invaders and have God give back blessings to the people of Iraq. We want good people in positions of authority who will compensate Iraqis who have suffered. I would like to see Iraqis work as one unit, putting the good of the country ahead of divisions between them and to go on dealing as humans.
"We need a lot of work to obtain true sovereignty and to cure the problems brought by the invaders, as independence isn't so easy that we can get it in one year. Democracy cannot be given as simple as that; we have to work hard for it and educate people to get it."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has reported that Sunni and secular political groups were angry over what they charged was a rigged election on December 15. They are demanding a new vote, and, according to the newspaper, have "threatened to leave a shambles the delicate plan to bring the country's wary factions together in a new government". The Sunni Arab minority also hinted at an increase in insurgent violence due to their suspicions of electoral fraud.

Preliminary election results suggest a solid victory by the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shi'ite Muslim religious parties that dominated the outgoing government.

(Inter Press Service)

What to believe in the 'war on terror'? (Dec 21, '05)

That US image problem (Dec 16, '05)

We vote, then we throw you out (Dec 15, '05)


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