Two Years in Iraq: What Do The Iraqis Think?
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Mar. 19, 2005 Two years after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, most Iraqi people are relieved to be free of Saddam Hussein, hopeful for their country's future, but frustrated that progress isn't coming as quickly as they'd like.
That was the assessment of several Iraqi journalists here, who spoke with the American Forces Press Service on the condition that their names not be used, for fear of retaliation by extremists.
The journalists described an Iraq buoyed by Saddam's removal from power and the possibilities ahead under a new democratic government.
"Under Saddam and his army, people were always afraid. Talk to just about anyone and they know someone killed under Saddam," said a journalist for an Iraqi daily newspaper. "Anyone, even the devil, would be better," agreed a reporter who covers Iraq for a U.S. newspaper.
Across the board, the journalists agreed that nothing short of Operation Iraqi Freedom could successfully have freed Iraq from Saddam's iron grip.
The population is split regarding the length of the coalition mission here, but generally understands that it's too soon for the coalition to leave Iraq. They don't like what they perceive as aggressive convoys running through their streets, but they recognize that they're necessary for Iraq's long-term security, the reporters said.
"People understand that it is necessary for the coalition to stay through this transient, difficult stage for our country," one reporter said. "The soldiers need to stay until we're able to secure ourselves from the dangerous enemies, both in and out of Iraq."
But at the same time, many Iraqis are frustrated by the difficulties they're experiencing during their country's transition period - from concerns about security and unemployment to uncertainty about their future government to inconveniences caused by dilapidated water and electrical systems.
Regular insurgent attacks on Iraqi civilians have left the population frazzled, and many are growing increasingly angry at those behind the attacks. More than 2,000 people marched through Baghdad March 18 to protest a bombing that left 125 people dead.
The attackers include Iraqis who refuse to let go of the Saddam regime. While stressing that he disagrees with their viewpoints and tactics, one reporter said he understands their desperation. "Under Saddam, they had money, they had big houses and cars, they had high-level jobs. Now they have nothing," he said. These loyalists aren't necessarily committed to Saddam the man, the reporter explained. What many are clinging to are the lives of privilege they once had, but have lost.
Ridding Iraq of extremists has to be a top priority in Iraq's progress, a reporter said. "The first demand has to be to kill the terrorists," he said. "We can't move forward with the terrorists operating freely and killing our people."
In terms of their future government, the people are mixed, with some wanting a clear separation between church and state and others preferring an Islamic government. The latter alternative, one Iraqi journalist who reports for a U.S. newspaper fears, likely would be strongly influenced by Iran. "People don't want to see an Iranian style of government for Iraq," he said.
As they ponder their country's political future, some Iraqis have difficulty looking beyond the day-to-day inconveniences caused by Iraq's long-neglected infrastructure, the journalists agreed. The Iraqi people have heard about the $18 billion the United States has committed in reconstruction funds, but aren't seeing signs of the efforts or believe they're taking too long.
"Many Iraqis thought that the Americans could come in and wave a magic wand and everything would be fixed," said one reporter who covers Baghdad for a local daily newspaper. "They don't understand that it's going to take time to clean up after 35 years."
Similarly, as they watch their country transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, many Iraqis, particularly those with less education, are grappling with their newfound liberties. "People are trying to understand: What is democracy? What is freedom?" a reporter said. "To some, it means that now they can do anything they want, but that's not true. There are a lot of misconceptions, and the Iraqi leaders and Iraqi media need to help educate them." Despite the difficulties and frustrations of Iraq's transition period, most Iraqi people are now looking to the future with hopes and aspirations unimaginable just two years ago, the reporters said.
"Most Iraqis believe that the future will be better," a reporter summarized. "They want a good, stable life and a chance to live their dreams."