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 Fear still reigns in Iraq

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الدولة : العراق
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تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Fear still reigns in Iraq    الأربعاء 07 سبتمبر 2011, 10:58 pm

Fear still reigns in Iraq



As a Shiite Muslim who was interrogated by Iraq's secret police and lost her job because she would not join the regime's Baath Party, Fawzia al-Attia should feel safer now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. She does not.

Death threats and Baghdad's daily bombings have made al-Attia more afraid than she was during Saddam's reign of terror, she says."Before, I couldn't say anything in my own home," said al-Attia. "But at least I was safe. I was only afraid of Saddam. It is not like now. Now, you open the door to your home and you could get killed."

American troops are preparing to pull out of Iraqi completely by the end of December, more than eight years after the invasion that ousted Saddam and promised a better life for Iraqis. As the country enters a post-U.S. era, many Iraqis who had welcomed the 2003 invasion feel they remain in even more danger than before Saddam's fall.

Security is a key indicator of Iraq's future — it drives business investment, government policy decisions and the psyche of the war-torn nation.In interviews across Baghdad, Iraqis cited the random daily bombings and shootings that continue to kill people here. At least under Saddam, they say, they knew they could avoid being targeted by violence by simply staying quiet.

Al-Attia doesn't make the comparison lightly. She remembers the fear when, under Saddam's rule, she was called to a police station for questioning. Her husband followed her because he didn't know if he'd ever see her again.

Now that same uncertainty looms in the background every day. Because of sectarian violence, she and her family moved from a Shiite neighborhood to the heavily fortified Green Zone. A sociology professor at Baghdad University, she can't drive herself to work, relying instead on bodyguards to take her.

"Under Saddam, there was fear, but in a different way," she said.Sectarian violence, which drove Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago, was almost nonexistent under Saddam.

In May 2003, two months after the invasion, there were fewer than a handful of daily attacks on Iraqis, national security forces and foreign troops. That number spiked in May 2007, with an average of 180 attacks a day, according to the U.S. military data released by congressional investigators at the General Accounting Office. Between 2005 and 2008, an average of 60 Iraqis was killed daily.

Since then, violence has dropped dramatically, but attacks continue.

Several people a day die, and a bombing in a residential area or on a street of shops that causes no casualties still spreads fear among everyone who hears about it. This past July, U.S. forces in Iraq reported an average of 20 daily bombings, rocket attacks and shootings — including some that were thwarted before they were carried out.

Sunni insurgent groups, which sprung up when Saddam was ousted and Iraq's majority Shiites took power, continue to strike at anyone who tries to restore normalcy to Iraq — security forces, the government, Americans or even fellow Sunnis, like the 29 who were killed in a Baghdad mosque by a suicide bomber during Ramadan prayers this past month.

"I'm not going to short-sheet the current security situation; I think it's not what the Iraqis want or deserve," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the American military's top spokesman in Baghdad.Asked to compare today's security in Iraq to what it was under Saddam, Buchanan called it "very, very different."

"I don't think we know as much of what was going on in the past, just because much of it was quiet," he said. "In the dead of the night, people would come and take you away, and you never heard from them again."

Certainly no one has forgotten the horrors under Saddam.

Estimates of how many Iraqis were executed or otherwise "disappeared" during Saddam's 24-year regime range from 300,000 to 800,000. Reviews of bodies found in mass graves from that era point to what Gerard Alexander, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, has called a "conservative estimate" that an average 16,000 Iraqis a year were killed.

Saddam persecuted prominent Shiite clerics and their followers and launched what Human Rights Watch calls a campaign of genocide against Kurds. People from all backgrounds rarely, if ever, dared to criticize the government, even to relatives or neighbors, for fear they'd be taken away by Saddam's secret police and beaten, imprisoned, killed, or simply disappear.

"When I was in Baghdad, I would always feel that today would be the day that I would be killed. But I was lucky," said Biekhal Alkhalifa, a 31-year-old Kurd who commuted between engineering classes in Baghdad and her hometown of Kirkuk when Saddam was president.

"I am sure there are a lot of Arab people who now say, 'We wish Saddam was still in power,'" she said. "But for the Kurds, it is 100 percent of us who are happy that he is gone."The U.S. military surge that poured more than 160,000 troops into Iraq in 2007 quelled much of the sectarian violence.

But a July report by the U.S. watchdog that oversees construction in Iraq concluded that the nation is more dangerous now than it was last year due to bombings, assassinations and a resurgence in violence by Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Iraq Body Count, an independent British monitoring group, estimates at least 102,043 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war began.

Iraq has gone into what Sean Kane, a former United Nations diplomat now with the U.S. Institute of Peace, calls a "sideways drift" — progress has plateaued and Iraqis have a hard time predicting what may come next.

The violence looms over the American military's planned exit, fueling fears about instability and burgeoning influence from neighboring Iran. As a result, Baghdad and Washington are reconsidering whether the U.S. troops should leave by Dec. 31, as required under a 2008 security agreement.

Saddam's last wide-ranging campaigns of death against Shiites and Kurds ended in 1991. As a result, in the perception of many Iraqis, the years before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion seemed peaceful — even as Saddam continued terrorizing people in smaller numbers without attracting much nationwide attention.

"Even though Saddam was a tyrant, we Iraqis used to live a good life," said Huda Aqeel Jaffa, 35, a Sunni housewife with three children and a husband who receives death threats because, as a construction contractor, he is seen as working with Americans. "Life was simple, and we could go everywhere we wanted. Now, there is no security. There is no stability. There is no humanity. We are afraid of everything."

Copyright © 2011
The Associated Press.


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Al-Qaeda, down but hardly out



Long before U.S. officials declared al-Qaeda to be on the ropes, taking hits to the body and the head, they were making similar declarations about a more discrete enemy: the group’s affiliate in Iraq. In 2008, with American forces making substantial gains in the war, the CIA’s director at the time, Michael V. Hayden, pointed to a “near-strategic defeat” for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

More than three years on, there’s little doubt that the U.S.-led effort to counter al-Qaeda in Iraq has vastly weakened the group. Its members now number no more than 1,000 and it lacks the ability to challenge the slowly strengthening Iraqi state.

At the same time, as a string of recent attacks show, there’s also little doubt that al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, remains active. And that, a counterterrorism expert argues in a new analysis, means it is still dangerous, both in Iraq, where about 300 people died every month in terrorist attacks last year, and possibly even in the West.“We need to be paying closer attention,” Brian Fishman, of the New America Foundation, said in an interview. “The nature of AQI has changed.”

Fishman writes in a new paper that a tendency to celebrate the end of AQI is allowing U.S. policymakers to ignore the threat it poses. Smaller and less ambitious, it is also more resilient. And while the Iraqi security forces are still shaky, there are areas around Mosul in the north of Iraq, Anbar in the west and even in Baghdad that might reasonably be described as safe havens for the group’s members.

“They don’t need that much space,” said Fishman. “They don’t need training camps like they had in Afghanistan pre-9/11, where they went around on monkey bars. It wasn’t the monkey bar training that allowed them to take down planes on 9/11, it was the ability to sit and think of ways of hijacking an airplane. And today you need even less space.”

Fishman’s worry is that AQI, no longer preoccupied with trying to create an Islamic state in Iraq, will heed calls from al-Qaeda leaders to expand operations and attempt to strike the West. Some, like Abu Yahya al-Libi and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman – reportedly recently killed in Pakistan – have explicitly called for more such attacks.

AQI is organized and has the ability to stage coordinated strikes. Meantime, while the numbers of operators in Iraq is small, the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has shown that a small number of people working in a weak state can make ambitious plans. The many Western connections to Iraq – the embassies, companies and NGOs – might also make the process of planning an attack in the West easier than in isolated Yemen.

In his analysis, Fishman suggests that “a weakly governed Iraq may offer a better platform for al-Qaeda attacks against the West than AQAP’s increasingly chaotic home in Yemen.”“If they developed the desire to operate outside Iraq’s borders, it seems like they’d be able to do so,” he says.

Fishman says, as in Iraq, the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan could very well fail to eliminate the terrorist threat even if the broader insurgency is defeated. Elements of the Taliban could reconcile with the Afghan government, and the Afghan state could function on its own. But “if we have an environment in Afghanistan that relies on the state to defend itself against the Taliban and control major cities, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has the ability to control its territory to the degree where terrorist organizations cannot operate,” Fishman says.

What do the limits of counterinsurgency mean for long-term U.S. foreign policy? Reluctantly, Fishman concludes that Washington is probably best off maintaining some American presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq to support local security forces and to monitor regional threats. But, he says, there are trade-offs involved. The presence of American troops in either country – not to mention Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen – is used as a recruiting tool by extremists.

“Whether we acknowledge it directly or not, we have tacitly made the choice that we have reduced the risk of the large attack but increased the risk of the small-scale one,” he says.“That’s frankly probably the right policy for us,” he added, “but we have to honest with ourselves about the trade-off.”

By Alice Fordham,
the Washington Post
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Fear still reigns in Iraq
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