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Was it worth it? An Iraqi family debates.

On the eve of the three-year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, the Methboubs, like most Iraqis, feel a mix of frustration, disappointment, and hope in the face of daily sectarian violence.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 17, 2006



BAGHDAD

Crammed into the same ramshackle apartment in which they fearfully waited out the US invasion of Iraq three years ago, the Methboub family is asked to list the good points of the US presence.

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But an argument erupts in their small living room, like a bomb in a crowded marketplace.

"They never do anything good, they close the roads, they kill the Iraqi people," spits out 19-year-old daughter Fatima, clicking her tongue "no" repeatedly. "They own Saddam's palaces, but they are worse than Saddam Hussein. They hurt the Iraqi people."

"I object," says Amal, 16, trying to insert her more nuanced argument between Fatima's strident declarations. "The first thing [the Americans] did is release us from Saddam Hussein. That's a big revolution for Iraq."

The close-knit, poor family of Karima Selman Methboub, a widow with eight children whom the Monitor has followed closely since late 2002, has always met challenges head-on, accepting what they see as their fate with a potent sense of humor, and often with laughter.

But for many Iraqis, who have watched in horror as tens of thousands of their countrymen have died since the 2003 invasion, hopes for the future are muted, or gone. US promises of freedom and democratic rule after the tyranny of Saddam Hussein have instead given way to Iraqi anger at US invaders and Iraqi insurgents.

"The only one who is responsible for the Iraqi and American dead is [President] Bush," claims Fatima. "I hope Bush's conscience judges him. The Americans and the Iraqis know: He is responsible for the mass killing in Iraq, no one else."

Amal counters: "Thanks to Saddam Hussein, we are blind, and we are deaf. Did you like to live in the dark?" she demands of her sister. "The small Arab countries have development and good education. We do not, though we are the richest in the Arab world."

"I can't say that the Americans are angels," she continues. "But when Iraq wants to develop, the terrorists come to Iraq from Syria and Saudi Arabia. The Americans are trying to preserve the freedom of societies around the world."

But many Iraqis say the price has been higher than they could have imagined. "My soul is unsettled in my body," intones Mrs. Methboub. She mentions that gunmen wearing commando uniforms entered the house of relatives a couple of weeks ago, and took away three sons who later turned up dead.

"We can't like Iraq now, because we are tired," says Methboub. "If we had a lot of money, we would run away from this country. The civil war is starting."

Amal adds with some exasperation over the new government: "Iraq will be finished, all the people will die, but still politicians will fight for their posts."

She will be 17 next week and kept a diary during the war. Recent entries comment on the surge in sectarian violence, and Amal's own drift toward sectarian thinking. "When you say you are Shiite or Sunni on the street, people say: 'No, don't say that,' " she says, toying with the tail of a turquoise head scarf. "But it never changes the fact that Iraq contains Shiite and Sunnis [and] they now hate one another."

Battling to scrape by

Such thinking was far from this family's thoughts three years ago. Full of dread and losing hope, as the American invasion of Iraq loomed, the Methboubs watched helplessly as better-off neighbors moved out of their run-down Baghdad apartment building in search of safety.

Fear gripped the capital before the attack, and statements about the future began with the words: "If I am still alive...."

"Without my neighbors, I felt strange, and started to be afraid," Methboub told the Monitor on the eve of war in 2003. "Because I cried, my daughters cried, too."

Today, the Methboub family still cries and lives in fear. Like so many other poor families in Iraq, they are battling to scrape a living through war, occupation, insurgent violence and now growing sectarian bloodshed. Another 25 executed bodies were found on the streets Thursday. Some 86 corpses were discovered on Tuesday.

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