with Ali Al-Fadhily
BAGHDAD - Despite promises from Iraqi and U.S. leaders that 2006 would bring
improvement, Iraqis have suffered through the worst year in living memory, facing
violence, fragmentation and a disintegrated economy.
A year back Iraqis were promised that 2006 would be the fresh beginning of
a, prosperous, democratic and unified Iraq. Through an elected parliament and
a unity government, they would find peace, and start rebuilding a country torn
apart by the U.S.-backed UN sanctions and then the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.
But everyone agrees that the situation now is worse than ever. Leaders in Iraq
disagree only to the extent they blame one another for the collapse in security
that has led to worsened services and living conditions.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with many other Shia leaders in the Iraqi
government, blames al-Qaeda and "Saddamists" for the degrading situation.
Echoing statements by U.S. President George W. Bush, al-Maliki told reporters
recently: "Those terrorists hate democracy because that makes them lose
power, and all they are doing is killing Iraqi people in order to recapture
what they lost after the liberation of Iraq."
Whatever leaders say, people are simply looking back on a hellish year, and
fearful of another to come.
"I wish I could flee to any third world country and work in garbage collection
rather than stay here and live like a frightened rat," Adel Mohammed Aziz,
a teacher from Baghdad told IPS. "We are all living in fear for our lives;
death chases us all around.."
The displacement of Iraqis from Iraq is currently the world's fastest-growing
refugee crisis, according to the Washington-based group Refugees International
which works towards providing humanitarian assistance and protection for displaced
The United Nations estimates that at least 2.3 million Iraqis have fled the
growing violence in their country. They estimate that 1.8 million Iraqis have
fled to surrounding countries, while another half million have vacated their
homes for safer areas within Iraq. An estimated 40,000 people are leaving Iraq
every month for Syria alone, according to the UN.
Cases of sectarian killings had been reported before this year, with targeted
victims such as former military people or scientists. But this year sectarian-based
death squads became a threat to all Iraqis, particularly Sunni Muslims, whose
beliefs differ in ways from those of Shia Muslims. The body count has increased
to a minimum of 100 a day, with most killed after monstrous torture.
"We cannot go to work, cannot go to pray in our mosques, and cannot send
our children to schools," young mother Um Rheem from the Shaab quarter
in Baghdad told IPS. "Many Sunni men have been killed by Shia death squads
who have the full support of the government and Americans."
Such fears are common in many areas in Baghdad where the Sunnis are a minority.
Other areas have other problems to live with.
"In areas where Sunnis are a majority, death squads attack in hundreds,
taking advantage of curfews and using government police cars," Mahmood
Abdulla from the predominantly Sunni Jihad quarter of Baghdad told IPS. "When
we defend ourselves and our homes, they shell us with mortars and Katyusha missiles.
All of this takes place under the eyes of Americans and Iraqi government officials."
Shia Iraqis complain that they cannot go to Sunni dominated areas for work,
and they cannot travel on the highway that leads to Syria and Jordan for fear
of Sunni militias looking for revenge.
"Sunnis who lost family members would kill any Shia they find, and so
we cannot go through their areas," Sa'arat Hassan, a vegetable merchant
at the Jameela wholesale vegetable market in Baghdad told IPS.
According to a survey conducted by U.S. and Iraqi doctors for the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the British Lancet Medical Journal
Oct. 11 this year, 654,965 Iraqis, or 2.5 percent of the entire population of
the country, have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.
The survey found that "of post-invasion deaths, 601,027, were due to violence,
the most common cause being gunfire."
The two months following publication of the survey have been Iraq's bloodiest
The streets of Baghdad, once packed with cars and open businesses, look deserted
most of the day now.
"We cannot open our shops for more than three to four hours a day,"
a carpet seller on the volatile Rasheed Street told IPS. "Many of my colleagues
have been abducted for ransom or killed for sectarian reasons on the way to
work. We expect death every minute."
The economic disaster is now an emergency. More than five million Iraqis are
living below the poverty line, close to half of them in desperate conditions,
according to a government study.
Iraqi officials and NGOs estimate the unemployment rate at more than 60 percent.
The cost of basic necessities soared during 2006, compounding the unemployment
crisis. A report by Iraq's central office for statistics cited by the NGO Coordination
Committee for Iraq (NCCI) suggests 70 percent inflation from July 2005 to July
The World Food Program said in a report "Food Security and Vulnerability
in Iraq" last May that if the situation in Iraq was not controlled, 8.3
million more people (31 percent of the population) would be rendered "food
insecure" if they were not provided their monthly food rations. The rations
were introduced under the Oil for Food Program set up during the sanctions period
in the 1990s.
Sectarian violence increased in Iraq after the bombing last February of an
important Shia shrine located in Samarra, 60 km north of Baghdad. Shia death
squads started appearing in massive numbers afterwards to carry out mass killings
of Sunnis, and to set fire to their mosques. U.S. forces failed to provide protection
for civilians on either side.
Meanwhile, armed Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation increased rapidly
"Resistance fighters are Iraqis who are trying to put an end to this vicious
occupation," a senior political analyst at Baghdad University told IPS
on condition of anonymity. "The Americans ignited sectarian war so that
they reduce the action of national resistance, but the result came to be the
opposite, and they are being hit harder and more often."
The Sunni-dominated areas of Baghdad and western Iraq faced the worst U.S.
military operations during 2006. The policy of siege, raids and large-scale
detentions led to massive killing of civilians in cities like Haditha, Karma
"Those Americans take us all for terrorists," the manager of a human
rights NGO in Ramadi to the west of Baghdad told IPS.
Speaking on condition that he and his organization remain unnamed for fear
of U.S. military reprisals, he added: "Their (U.S. military's) crimes in
Fallujah in 2004 were exposed, but they have committed a lot more crimes in
2006, and the world is silent about them. There is moaning in every house in
the western and northern parts of the city (Ramadi) for losing members of their
A poll conducted by the well-respected group World Public Opinion last month
showed that 61 percent of Iraqis support attacks against U.S. forces. The poll
found that 83 percent of Iraqis surveyed want the U.S. to withdraw completely
U.S. casualties increased dramatically during the last three months of the
year. This year saw at least 812 coalition soldier deaths in Iraq, with December
looking to be one of the deadliest months for them, according to the website
Iraq Coalition Casualties.
So far, at least 3,193 occupation troops have been killed in Iraq, 2,946 of
them from the United States, according to the website. In addition, there have
been 46,880 U.S. non-mortal casualties, including non-hostile and medical evacuations.
With no drastic changes imminent to the failed U.S. policy in Iraq, coupled
with an Iraqi government that grows more impotent by the day, Iraqis have dim
hopes of improvement in 2007.
(Inter Press Service)