Iraq is a freer place, but not a hopeful one, 20 years after the U.S. invasion

Iraq is a freer place, but not a hopeful one, 20 years after the U.S. invasion

Alissa J. Rubin writes:

A couple of streets away from the new buildings and noisy main road of the desert city of Falluja, there was once a sports stadium. The goal posts are long gone, the stands rotted years ago.

Now, every inch is covered with gravestones.

“This is the martyrs’ graveyard,” said Kamil Jassim Mohammed, 70, the cemetery’s custodian, who has looked after it since 2004, when graves were first dug for those killed as U.S. troops battled Iraqi militias. “I stopped counting how many people are buried here, but there are hundreds, thousands of martyrs.”

As Iraq marks the 20th anniversary on Monday of the American-led invasion that toppled the dictator Saddam Hussein, an army of ghosts haunts the living. The dead and the maimed shadow everyone in this country — even those who want to leave the past behind.

The United States invaded Iraq as part of its “war on terror” announced by President George W. Bush after the Al Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Bush and members of his administration claimed that Mr. Hussein was manufacturing and concealing weapons of mass destruction, though no evidence to back up those accusations was ever found. Some U.S. officials also said Mr. Hussein had links to Al Qaeda, a charge that intelligence agencies later rejected.

Today, Iraq is a very different place, and there are many lenses through which to see it. It is a far freer society than it was under Mr. Hussein and one of the more open countries in the Middle East, with multiple political parties and a largely free press.

Still, conversations with more than 50 Iraqis about the war’s anniversary offered an often troubling portrait of an oil-rich nation that should be doing well but where most people neither feel secure nor see their government as anything but a corruption machine.

Many Iraqis see a bleak economic future, because despite a wealth of natural resources, the country’s energy revenues have been spent primarily on the vast public sector, lost to corruption or wasted on grand projects left unfinished. Relatively little has gone into transforming public infrastructure or providing services, as many Iraqis had hoped.

“The living conditions are not good. The electricity is still bad,” said Mohammed Hassan, a 37-year-old communications engineer and father of three who supervises the laying of internet lines in a middle-class neighborhood in the capital, Baghdad. He is paid $620 a month. “I have hardly enough to get to the end of the month, so I cannot see much of a future,” he added.

“It’s a pity. We always wanted to get rid of Saddam,” he said. “We know Iraq is rich, and we hoped it would get better. But we did not get what we were hoping for.” [Continue reading…]

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