Is life for Iraqis improving?
Five years after the US invasion, some see flickers of hope.
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The brothers find life in Baghdad arduous. They live at their parents' home. The commute to the printing plant used to take 10 minutes prior to the war. Now, weaving through police check points, blast barriers, and streets clogged with VIP convoys and security details, it takes them nearly two hours. Their parents' home, in a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood that before the war was a gathering place each weekend for the extended family, is now inhabited only by his ailing mother and one of his sisters. Their father died in Jordan in 2006. Most of the rooms in the home are locked.Skip to next paragraph
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Most male members of the family now carry weapons for protection. "There is no law to protect you," says Ali, a teenage nephew who owns a pistol and an AK-47.
They have experienced the sectarian violence that flared after the destruction of the Shiite Askariyah mosque in Samarra in February 2006. Muwaffaq recounts how one of his Sunni employees was kidnapped in the summer of 2006 and that he then received a call from a leader in the Mahdi Army, the militia of Mr. Sadr, which is accused of the worst sectarian atrocities. The caller rebuked Muwaffaq for hiring a Sunni. The man was later freed.
His sister Souad, a principal at a school in Baghdad's Dora district, had to leave her job and move to a predominantly Shiite section of town after receiving threats in 2006 to leave the area, which has become almost entirely Sunni.
But Muwaffaq has an abiding faith in Iraqis to get beyond those differences. His wife is Sunni, and many of his brothers and sisters have married Sunnis. "We've never asked if our neighbors are Sunnis or Sabeans. People can live together."
Laith Kubba, a director at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington and a former Iraqi government spokesman, agrees. "It's most misleading to assume that the current violence and conflict among Iraq's communities is rooted in the country's history. Intermixed neighborhoods and marriages testify to the contrary," he says. But the pattern of violence may be difficult to break, he notes. "The levels of sectarian conflict are unprecedented in the region. Those who caused and benefited from sectarian and ethnic strife will not help resolve it."
Mr. Kubba says the only solution is for the US to use "arm-twisting, incentives, and harsh deterrents," and the influence of regional powers such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to break the current gridlock caused by a "weak dysfunctional state and a system that rewards identity politics."
In the meantime, Iraqis like Muwaffaq cling to a hope for better days. One-third of his employees are non-Shiite. "The will of the people to live together can ultimately be stronger than anything," he says.
Each day, on his drive to work, he passes 12-ft.-high concrete blast walls, many of them now painted with idyllic scenes or plastered with posters urging reconciliation. There's one with a message that reinforces his view: "Our journey is long, but Iraq remains more important than our differences."