Iraq: Less Violent But Not Less Hellish
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U.S. and Iraqi officials claim that security is improving across al-Anbar province and much of Iraq. Security during the last half of 2007 was indeed better than in the period between February 2006 and mid-2007. But this has brought little solace to many Iraqis, because violence is still worse than in 2005 and early 2006.
Top Iraqi and U.S. officials and politicians have been saying that Iraq is back on its feet and that security has been established in the most volatile provinces like al-Anbar, to the west of Baghdad. Security responsibilities here will be handed over to Iraqis in March, the U.S. military says.
Violence levels are down, but attacks have not ceased. "Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in 24 hours, U.S. B-1 and F-16 bombers dropped over 40,000 pounds of special munitions on the Arab Juboor villages just south of Baghdad, and Awakening (militia paid for by the U.S.) leaders and senior police officers are being assassinated all over Iraq, yet U.S. army leaders and top officials say Iraq is safe and sound," lawyer and human rights activist Mahmood al-Dulaimy told IPS.
Dulaimy said U.S. President George W. Bush has succeeded in convincing many people in the United States that everything in Iraq is all right. "It is you media people who fool the world by transmitting false news about the situation in Iraq," Dulaimy said. "Look around you and tell me what is good here."
Looking around, one finds a ruined country. And neither occupation forces nor Iraqi government personnel seem to care about saving the little normal life that remains.
The independent U.S.-based group Just Foreign Policy says more than 1.1 million Iraqis have been killed through the occupation. According to an Oxfam International report, four million Iraqis are in need of emergency aid. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are more than 4.5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.
"Is it good that we still cannot go to Baghdad to sell our crops and buy seeds and other necessary things for our farms," said young Jassim from Fallujah. "Is it good that we only plant ten percent of our land because there is not enough electricity and fuel to run our pumps?"
Many people in Fallujah say they simply want the U.S. forces to leave. "If the U.S. generals mean they will hand over security to Iraqis and leave the province, then I will salute them all," retired Iraqi army colonel Salman Ahmed told IPS in Fallujah. "But I know it is just another comedy like that played elsewhere in Iraq, where Iraqis (officials) are just ropes for American dirty laundry. We want our country back for real, not just on paper."
People in Fallujah, the second biggest city of al-Anbar province after capital Ramadi, say they are still in the grip of draconian security measures implemented and backed by the U.S. military.
"If security is so good then let them end the tragedy of our city," a member of the Fallujah City Council, speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS. "We want our freedom back and we want to leave and enter our city without this humiliation by soldiers and policemen. Fallujah is dying, and our masters (Americans) are bragging about security and prosperity."
Fifty-five-year-old mother Um Bashar came to the house where IPS was meeting with residents.
"Let them (Americans) take everything and bring me my son back," she said. "He stayed to guard the house in the November 2004 siege and the Americans captured him. Now he is missing. Some people who were released told us he was with them in the airport prison."
Iraqi people do not speak of improvement. They do not see it; they see only that these claims have become important for the U.S. elections.
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East)