For Iraqis, years after U.S. invasion seem like unending war

Vivian Salama

Vivian Salama.GIF (15561 bytes)BAGHDAD — Alaa al-Qureishi’s home is full of ghosts — the photos of dead relatives decorating the walls of every room. In 2006 his mother and brother were killed when the house, in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, was randomly hit by a rocket. A year later tragedy struck again when two more brothers and his brother-in-law were killed in sectarian violence at the height of the country’s civil war.

Today many of his fellow Shiites are on the front lines battling the extremists of the Islamic State group in what many see as an existential threat to Iraq. But the 37-year-old al-Qureishi is sitting this one out. “Our situation keeps going from bad to worse,” he said, his eyes filled with tears, the pain of his loss still fresh. “My family doesn’t need any more martyrs.”

Twelve years after the U.S. invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and eliminate weapons of mass destruction that were never found, the country is still mired in war.

The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, rules more than a third of Iraq. Powerful, often violent, Shiite militias — armed and advised by Iran — are leading the fight against the extremists, propping up Iraq’s humiliated military, which crumbled in the face of the militant threat last year.

U.S. forces are back, albeit in a non-combat role, thrusting open a door that many had sought to close for good when American troops withdrew in late 2011.

For Iraqis, the various conflicts feel like one long war, which many blame on the United States. A common view is that overthrowing Saddam spurred the explosion of sectarianism that followed when the long-oppressed Shiite majority rose to power.

A country beleaguered by foreign invasion and civil war became vulnerable to extremism. Fueled by another civil war in neighboring Syria, that extremism grew into al-Qaida in Iraq and later morphed into the Islamic State group that is now spreading havoc in several countries across the Arab world.

“Obviously there is a threat that you can trace that shows Daesh emerged because of the invasion,” said Sajad Jiyad of the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, using an acronym of the Arabic words for the Islamic State group. “It’s the lack of rule of law, randomness of the violence and brutality that we see on a daily basis today that shocks people.”

The U.S.-led invasion that began in March 2003 was initially touted as the dawn of a new, democratic era for Iraq. There was the “shock-and-awe” campaign; a dictator found hiding in a spider hole; national unity governments; insurgents, militias and retribution; and sectarianism and civil war.

More than 500,000 Iraqis were reportedly killed in the eight-year war, while more than 3,500 U.S. soldiers died in combat.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled the country during that war. Today more than 2 million are displaced from the violence set off by the campaign by the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group to establish a self-declared caliphate.

Iraq has staggered economically, despite its oil wealth. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the economy shrank by 2.75 percent in 2014 — its first contraction since 2003.

Na’ma Ali Saleh, a 52-year-old resident of Sadr City, has struggled to keep a steady job since the invasion and believes the country’s current crisis makes finding work impossible.

“We have hot weather, and half of the time there is no power or water,” he said. “Saddam was a disaster for Iraq, but at least in those days we only feared one man. Now we fear many.”

Nostalgia for life under Saddam is rampant, despite his heinous criminal record that included the hangings of Shiite politicians, unlawful detentions. the disappearance of hundreds of political dissidents, and a massacre of between 50,000 to 100,000 Kurdish Iraqis.

“Iraqis are still waiting for a better alternative,” Jiyad said. “At least in Saddam’s time there was some semblance of rule of law,” he added. “He was violent, but it was targeted.”

Three of al-Qureishi’s late brothers were imprisoned under Saddam, accused of political dissent. But he now believes that was a small price to pay for the relative stability the country once enjoyed.

“What’s worse? Prison or death?” he asked, visibly distraught. “I may be doing my country a service by fighting in the war against Daesh, but I will do my family a much bigger disservice if I go to fight and die.”

– Associated Press, March 21, 2015
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

2014 deadliest year in Iraq for civilians since bloody 2006-7

Violence in Iraq in 2014 killed at least 12,282 civilians, making it the deadliest year since the peak of sectarian bloodshed in 2006-07, the United Nations said in a statement. The majority of the deaths — nearly 8,500 — occurred during the second half of the year, following the expansion of the Sunni Muslim Islamic State insurgency in June out of Anbar province which led to widespread clashes with security forces.

Thousands of combatants have been killed in clashes involving Iraqi army forces, militia, Islamist militants, tribal forces and Kurdish Peshmerga. Fighting in urban areas has taken a particular toll on civilian populations.

“Yet again, the Iraqi ordinary citizen continues to suffer from violence and terrorism ... This is a very sad state of affairs,” said Nickolay Mladenov, head of the U.N. political mission in Iraq.

The figures show that violence has increased significantly since 2013 when 7,818 civilians were killed. In December, a total of 1,101 Iraqis were killed in acts of violence, including 651 civilians, 29 policemen and a further 421 members of the security forces. The bloodshed was worst in Baghdad, where 320 civilians were killed in December.

Islamic State fighters still control roughly a third of Iraq. The army and Shi'ite and Kurdish militia continue to battle the insurgents.

– edited from Reuters, January 2, 2015
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)