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A year on, America in shock in Iraq

Baghdad, April 9: One year ago, I walked down an empty stretch of Sadoun Street towards the pointed gun barrels of US Marines who had just reached the centre of Baghdad. Perhaps it was dangerous, but I felt only relief and elation. The arrival of the Marines meant the 21-day war was over, and Iraq would have the possibility of a better, peaceful future.

On that day, I was soon surrounded as happy Iraqis came pouring into the streets.

Today, I can no longer walk down Sadoun Street. As an American, it is not safe for me to do so.

A year after the fall of Baghdad — after the deaths of more than 600 Americans, the wounding of 8,000 others and the allocation of untold billions of dollars — the hopes of April 9, 2003, seem farther than ever from reach.

The seeds of today’s problems were planted even before the war was really over. The Marines moved in on the eastern side of the Tigris in Baghdad.

The army was on the western side, mopping up pockets of resistance. But neither had the means, or any evident mandate, to enforce law and order.

As US troops stood by and did nothing, a paroxysm of looting erupted. By the time it was over, the country was left far more shattered than it had been during the war. But everyone believed US forces would swiftly take care of whatever was needed.

It was nine days after the fall of Baghdad before the US defence department finally let the US civilian authority, led by retired Gen. Jay Garner, into Baghdad. For reasons of security, Garner and his makeshift team set up shop in Saddam’s Republican Palace and began to construct what came to be known as the “green zone”.

In those days, a few guards and some mild strands of concertina wire were deemed enough to block the gates.

Now the green zone barrier is hundreds of yards of reinforced concrete — a Berlin Wall in the middle of Baghdad.

The replacement of Garner with L. Paul Bremer III in mid-May brought another series of shocks to the Iraqi population. Bremer said it was too early for any grand council or turnover of meaningful power to Iraqis. He abolished the Iraqi army. That pen stroke left about 500,000 men desperate for work, creating a reservoir of anger that would come back to haunt the US leadership.

The months of May, June and July were marked by the beginnings of the anti-US insurgency.

As summer heated up, the lack of electricity made the discomfort even more acute. Complaints from ordinary Iraqis about the inefficiency of the occupation grew louder.

The seating of the Iraqi Governing Council in July had done little to satisfy public demands for an end to occupation, and the council itself soon proved feckless and disorganised. The killing of Saddam’s sons, Udai and Qusay, at a safe house in Mosul soon after briefly lifted spirits and set off volleys of celebratory gunfire. But as the long, hot summer simmered into a sultry autumn, attacks mounted. In November, 110 coalition members died, roughly the same as during the “active” phase of the war.

The capture of Saddam in a “spider hole” close to his home village in December seemed at first as if it might deflate the former Bathists and intelligence officers who seemed to be the backbone of the resistance, but in some ways it liberated them. No longer encumbered by the crimes of their former leader, they could style themselves as patriots for Iraq.

Another girder of American hopes seemed to collapse this month when at least one segment of the unhappy but generally quiescent Shia population turned to open revolt, led by the firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Today, US forces are losing lives on two fronts — against Sunni insurgents mixed with religious extremists, and against the newly awakened Shias.

For Iraqis, the suffering has been enormous. They are disappointed, disillusioned and — in many cases — blindly furious and eager and willing to lash out at the foreigners in their midst.

On my last day in Iraq last month, I visited a young second cousin of mine from Texas who, as a reservist, has been sent to Balad in the Sunni Triangle.

Seeing her bright, shining face in the sea of desert camouflage uniforms, a young woman eager to do a good job and please her commanders, but also to stay safe and please her worried mother back home, I wondered how we Americans and Iraqis found ourselves in this predicament.

Bloody turmoil

• Chaos reigns in Iraq on first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall. The week’s toll rises to 450

• Fierce fighting that has convulsed the Sunni cities of Falluja and Ramadi reaches the western outskirts of Baghdad

• Insurgents seize four Italians and two Americans. Teenagers lurk with rocket-propelled grenades

• Nine die in attack on US convoy carrying fuel. Reuters picture below shows an Iraqi beating to pulp a foreigner lying on road

• American forces suspend military operations in Falluja to facilitate humanitarian access and talks with insurgents

• US-led troops regain control of Kut

• Loud explosion rocks Baghdad’s Sheraton Hotel as mortar round lands close by, but no casualties

• Three Japanese remain in captivity but Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tells Japan he has no plans to pull troops from Iraq despite threats by kidnappers to kill the trio

• Palestinian President Yasser Arafat intervenes to seek the release of two abducted
Palestinians

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