Is life for Iraqis improving?
Five years after the US invasion, some see flickers of hope.
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The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that as of December 2007 there were 4.4 million displaced Iraqis, including 2.5 million inside the country and 1.9 million in neighboring nations.Skip to next paragraph
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Some Iraqis have returned as the violence has ebbed. But Abu Hamra has left his wife and five children in Jordan. His two brothers, Khaled and Naim, also won't bring their families back because they say it's not safe yet. In the BBC/ABC News poll, 54 percent of Iraqis said it's not the right time for refugees to return.
So, Muwaffaq and Khaled shuttle back and forth between Iraq and Jordan – two weeks here, two weeks there. How sure are they that their business in Iraq will survive? They're hedging their bets. They have opened a new plant in Jordan and plan to open another in the relatively stable Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.
One of the biggest challenges facing their business is corruption, which they say is much worse now than under Hussein.
Muwaffaq says that all government contracts today are rigged. Officials routinely collude with his competitors to share the proceeds of inflated bids, he says. One competitor even issued death threats to everyone not to participate in the bidding on a recent health ministry contract.
Judge Radhi Hamza, the former head of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, estimated during a US Senate hearing last week that $18 billion in public funds have been lost to corruption, and that's just for the 3,000 cases his commission investigated between 2003 and 2007. He said this does not include the losses from smuggling and theft in the oil sector and the estimated $8.3 billion worth of fraud cases officially "forgiven" by ministers and the prime minister.
US reconstruction money has been also grossly misspent, according to Ali Baban, Iraq's minister of planning and development, citing just one incident in which the US awarded a $20 million bridge-repair contract that ended up costing the contractor only $1 million.
Should the US stay?
Back in the printing plant, talk turns to the role of US forces. Dhia Mahdi, one of the company's longest employees, blames all of Iraq's problems on the Americans.
"The Americans have destroyed this country," he says. "They have divided the nation. Their policy is divide and conquer."
Surveys show Iraqis' views on the US's continued role as mixed. Sixty-one percent say the US presence in Iraq is making the security situation worse. But when asked if the US should leave now, only 38 percent say, "Yes." And 76 percent said they wanted the US to provide training and weapons to the Iraqi Army; 80 percent wanted the US to participate in security operations against Al Qaeda or foreign jihadis in Iraq.
The Abu Hamra brothers say that US forces should leave Iraq now. "Nothing is going right [in Iraq]," says Khaled, who thinks it's time for the family to sell the business and leave Iraq.