Doubts, fears nag Iraqis as U.S. pulls out
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Zahora Jasim lost two brothers to bombs and gunmen in the years of turmoil and violence that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Now, as the troops leave for home, the Baghdad housewife fears her country's troubles are not over and wonders, like many Iraqis, if their fragile democracy will slide back into sectarian strife.
"The only images I have in my mind from these nine years are the deaths of my brother and his wife, of being forced from our homes, and the death of another brother in a bombing," she said.
"I don't think anything will really change. There will still be bombings, we will still have assassinations, and the government will not be able to do anything."
The U.S. military departure evokes mixed emotions. Some feel gratitude to the Americans for overthrowing dictator Saddam Hussein in the 2003 invasion. For others, a sense of sovereignty is tainted by sadness over lost relatives and memories of U.S. violations like the abuse of inmates in Abu Ghraib prison.
The last U.S. troops are rolling out of the country across the Kuwaiti border as President Barack Obama winds up the most unpopular war since Vietnam.
But Iraq remains uncertain in many ways. A power-sharing deal includes Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish parties, but the government struggles with sectarian tensions. Violence is down sharply but bombings and attacks remain part of daily life.
From the Shi'ite-dominated south to western Sunni strongholds, sectarianism bubbles just below the surface, and many are unsure their security forces can contain al Qaeda-linked insurgents and rival militias without U.S. help.
Bombings and attacks have eased since American and Iraqi security forces weakened insurgents. But roadside bombs, car bombs and assassinations still kill and maim almost every day.
A frail economy, constant power shortages, scarce jobs and discontent with political leaders all fuel uncertainty among Iraqis.
"Thanks to the Americans. They took us away from Saddam Hussein, I have to say that. But I think now we are going to be in trouble," Malik Abed, 44, a vendor at a Baghdad fish market. "Maybe the terrorists will start attacking us again."
With the fall of a Sunni dictator, Iraq's Shi'ite majority has risen and a fragile power-sharing government is led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. But for some Sunnis, there is no sharing.
"I think sectarianism will return, the struggle between Sunni and Shi'ite. It is clear from the struggle the government has," said security guard Mohammed Ibrahim. "I feel marginalized as a Sunni, there are no jobs for us in the government."
Falluja, the site of bloody urban fighting during the height of the war, has a distinct view of the American presence, with many questioning the massive U.S. military operations there.
Sitting in the Sunni heartland, Falluja was once the heart of al Qaeda operations in Iraq. U.S. troops used overwhelming troop force, gunships and jets to crush the insurgency there. Many still seek compensation.
A group of Falluja residents burned and stamped on U.S. flags on Wednesday in celebration over the withdrawal. Others waved pictures of dead relatives.
"No one trusted their promises, but they said when they came to Iraq they would bring security, stability and would build our country. Now they are walking out, leaving behind killings, ruin and mess," said Ahmed Aied, a Falluja grocer.
Even as their country shakes off the worst of its violence, memories of war leave old and young alike fretting over peace and stability.
"I was just a young girl when the Americans came. I used to walk with the U.S. soldiers and take pictures with them and they talked with me. They gave me pencils, and school books," said Roua Mansour, a young mother in Baghdad
"Now I am always scared. I prefer to stay inside at home. There was once a big bomb at the Sheraton Hotel and since then I have been frightened. A mortar landed in our garden once. I hope it gets better, but security still worries me."
(Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed and; Fadhel al-Badrani; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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