U.S. pullout leaves Iraq fragile, divided

BAGHDAD Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:39am EST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - "Baghdad was built by al-Mansour and cherished by Saddam," was a slogan that adorned many buildings in the Iraqi capital before the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Nearly nine years later, as the last American troops leave, a new slogan has taken its place: "Baghdad was built by al-Mansour, humiliated by Saddam and destroyed by the Americans."

Washington pulled its last remaining troops out of Iraq on Sunday.

They are leaving a nation divided across sectarian and ethnic lines and still struggling with an insurgency and political uncertainty after sectarian slaughter drove the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-7.

Nowhere illustrates the splintering of Iraq better than Baghdad, the capital built in 762 A.D. by the Abbasid Caliph Abu Jaafar al-Mansour on the Tigris River and for some time the centre of the Muslim world.

One symbol of the division is the Grei'at Bridge, a steel footbridge built in 2008 to enable people to move between Shi'ite areas without having to go through the mainly Sunni Adhamiya district.

Thousands fled their homes during the worst of the sectarian strife, fearing they would be attacked in their own neighborhoods because of their faith. Many never went back.

"We sold our house in Adhamiya in 2006 during the war and came here," said Shi'ite Abu Hassan, standing on the bridge which carries pilgrims and daily visitors from Grei'at to the sacred Shi'ite shrine in Kadhimiya.

"There were so many problems back then, so we left and rented a house here. It is better here," he said.

Many directly accuse the U.S. invasion of stirring up sectarian divisions in a country where Saddam, from the minority Sunni sect, ruthlessly crushed any signs of Shi'ite dissent but minimized sectarian divisions in daily life.

"There were no Sunnis and Shi'ites before the Americans, there was no sectarianism," said Abu Issam as he crossed the bridge. "I am a Shi'ite and my two sons are married to Sunni women."

STORY OF BAGHDAD

The identity of Iraq, once an influential political power and historically a thriving cultural hub in the Middle East, has changed through the years depending on who was in power, and these changes are reflected in Baghdad's urban landscape.

Under Saddam, statues and images of the ruler dotted almost every neighborhood and street.

After the invasion, Iraq's majority Shi'ites rose to political supremacy and stamped their mark on the capital. Saddam City is now Sadr City, and Saddam Bridge was renamed al-Hassaneen Bridge, after revered Shi'ite figures.

Green, black and red Shi'ite flags and banners depicting the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussein, a Shi'ite hero, now fly high on buildings, a sight never allowed under Saddam.

Many Iraqis say they believed the U.S. invasion would bring them democracy and prosperity after years of war, economic sanctions and oppression by Saddam's security apparatus.

Many say they now feel betrayed.

The U.S. convoys, and the black-masked militiamen who five years ago controlled whole neighborhoods, have left the city's streets. But bombings and killings remain part of everyday life.

The city is often blanketed with dust and smoke, its buildings are crumbling and streets are littered with garbage. Blast walls and razor wire erected to protect buildings from bombings still cover the capital.

Iraqis worried about joblessness and insecurity must also contend with an acute water shortage and get only a few hours of electricity a day unless they have their own generators.

"They (Americans) brought us a corrupted government that does not reflect what the people want. They are leaving but they left chaos behind ... and the Iraqi people are the ones who suffer," said Abbas Jaber, a government employee.

Iraqis also fear meddling from their regional neighbors after the U.S. pullout. Sunnis fear the rising power of Shi'ite Iran as it grows closer to the government in Baghdad, and Shi'ites say they fear a Sunni coup pushed by Saudi Arabia, which has never come to terms with Shi'ite rule in Iraq.

From the mainly Shi'ite southern city of Basra through the Sunni stronghold Ramadi in the west to the northern, Kurdish city of Arbil, Iraqis appear to agree on one thing: they want the Americans out, but they are anxious about the timing.

"Yes we want the occupation out, but this is not the time for them to leave," said Mahdi, a government employee in Basra.

"The Americans will get out from here and everyone else will start coming in from elsewhere."

(Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Alistair Lyon)

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Comments (6)
Tahuaya wrote:
Saddam was a pain in the neck and needed to go but he was not our problem and the U.S. had not business going into Iraq. I will always believe that Bush junior wanted to complete the war that his father had the sense not to finish. This was a war between to heads of state. Saddam tried to make it look as if he had subverted U.N. weapons sanctions in order to keep Iran off guard and Bush was looking for an excuse to knock him off. In the process countless people were killed or wounded. Billions were spent and in the process a stable, ruthless dictatorship was toppled and a corrupt government replaced it. The major difference is the fact that much of Iraq is in ruins.

So I want to thank two people. Bush junior for providing us with a prime example of Texas Cowboy Diplomacy and President Obama for getting us out of there.

When I compare how we got into Iraq with how we assisted the Libyans, it is clear to me that President Obama is better at foreign policy than Bush and Chaney are.

Dec 18, 2011 8:14am EST  --  Report as abuse
Levendi wrote:
And this is why we must mind our own business. Vote for Ron Paul, the less we meddle in other country’s business the less we will be disliked. The less money we will spend. The stronger we will be. We don’t need to have bases all over the world. We don’t need to be in all these wars with our young men and women being killed so the military manufacturing lobbyist have their way spending our hard earned tax dollars.

Dec 18, 2011 8:19am EST  --  Report as abuse
rebelgroove wrote:
Once again the United States, in its unmatched arrogance and absolute stupidity, leaves Iraq (pronounced Earack, not Eyerack, you morons) in an infinitely larger mess than when it began this liar’s war.

But the US did win. A few made a fortune out of ripping off their country (eg. Haliburton et al), a few more from the new oil leases snatched from the Iraqi people.

Way more people lost, though. Over 1,000,000,000 Iraqis died for the few to enrich themselves; several thousand US troops were sacrificed for this farce (and I’m sure their families still believe their loss was ‘patriotic’).

The United States of America is a global disgrace, the quintessential neighbourhood bully with more brawn than brains stealing lunch money from weaker nations.

Thank God I am not American.

Dec 18, 2011 11:54am EST  --  Report as abuse
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