US in Iraq: What's been left behind
After seven years of war, Iraqis are freer but feel embittered by the loss of life and halting progress in turning on the lights.
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Iraq today is no longer as apocalyptic as it appeared during the peak of the insurgency and sectarian civil war in 2006 and 2007 when 3,000 people were being killed each month. And it is a different place from pre-2003, when Saddam Hussein ruled with an iron hand over a population utterly afraid to criticize its dictator.Skip to next paragraph
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But wars of this magnitude never leave countries fully where expected, and in Iraq the variables of violence and popular disillusionment have been felt most tragically by those who live in the battle theater – Iraqis themselves.
"Given the blood and treasure expended on all sides, it's a pretty poor outcome," says Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "We've got a prime minister with distinct dictatorial tendencies, an army that's coming to the same size [as Saddam Hussein's], multiple intelligence services ... the Iraqi state has been reconstituted to look very similar to the one under Saddam, without the more egregious aspects," says Mr. Dodge, noting that levels of corruption also far exceed those before the war. "If you were a poor Iraqi who has gone through 13 years of sanctions, a major invasion, a civil war ... it's not a very rosy picture."
There have, in fact, been many failures, among the most prominent the inability to keep Baghdad's lights and refrigerators humming for more than a few hours a day. Iraqis frequently express anger over poor infrastructure despite all the money spent. Their fears are confirmed by official news of episodes of poor auditing – such as a July report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), which found that the Pentagon could not account for its use early on of $8.7 billion of Iraqi cash, which "left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss."
Americans and Iraqis engaged in reconstruction say many lessons have also been learned and security has improved. The current monthly death toll of 300 is 1/10th that of 2007. But the cost has been high, with more than 4,400 Americans killed and almost 32,000 wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis – some estimate hundreds of thousands – have also died from violent death and the broader impact of conflict.
In the minds of Iraqi citizens – many bitter over lives lost and seared with indignation over atrocities such as the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, but also ignorant about the extent of American investment in reconstruction – the US presence here has left a mixed legacy. It ranges from hostility to gratitude. "The locals are happy, but they won't say, 'We are grateful to the US' because of security concerns," says one Iraqi engineer from Baghdad who has worked with the US military in Fallujah since 2005. "People could write on their door 'Traitor' or kidnap them. It is a shame. They should be grateful for what [the US] did for the city."
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Anti-American hostility lingers in Fallujah like few other cities because more than 300,000 residents were ordered to leave in advance of the 2004 assault. The military broke into and searched every one of the estimated 30,000 structures. Some were destroyed in the fight to kill militants.