Iraq after the US: Will it survive? (video)
Iraqis harbor anger, deep concerns – and some optimism – as American troops withdraw after nearly nine years of war and occupation.
Most Iraqis can tell you the exact moment that war exploded into their lives, dissolving their hope for the US invasion of their country in 2003 and hardening the despair over its bloody aftermath.Skip to next paragraph
For Yas Khudair al-Khafaji, it came on a quiet Friday morning in November 2005. A double suicide truck bombing targeted the Hamra Hotel in Baghdad – and blew up just 25 yards from his front door.
One moment he was watching TV with his daughter Rousel, age 11. Twenty seconds later, the roof collapsed and he heard Rousel's last breath in his ear. Mr. Khafaji's wife and nephew also died.
"It was the first and final knockout in my life. I remember that every day," recalls Khafaji six years later.
Even though the bombing was carried out by Iraqi insurgents, Khafaji blames his searing loss on the United States as an occupying force. Protecting Iraqis, he says, was the responsibility of American troops, and they didn't do it. He also blames Iraqi politicians who, he says, "fight for power and forget the Iraqi people."
A complicated mix of similar complaints echoes across Iraq nearly nine years after one of the most defining and destructive wars in the modern history of the Middle East. While some fault America for starting the war, others blame "terrorists" for Iraq's years of chaos, or meddling nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Still others absolve US forces and accuse their own leaders of fueling intra-Iraq violence.
But as American units pack their duffel bags and prepare to fly home – all by the end of December – Iraq stands as a nation about to take sole responsibility for its own future for the first time in a decade, building on a fragile foundation, toward a tomorrow fraught with uncertainty.
Yes, the tyrant Saddam Hussein is gone. And Iraq has a fledgling, if imperfect, democratic government. Overall levels of violence have dropped, engendering a new optimism among some Iraqis. All this allowed President Obama to proclaim recently that US troops will depart Iraq "with their heads held high, proud of their success."
Yet Iraqis remain so conditioned to violence that they still reach for their cellphones every time a bomb explodes, to check that family members are safe. In November alone, insurgents carried out more than 100 targeted killings in Baghdad Province.
"Now terrorists are weaker than they were three years ago, but they are still working," says Khafaji's brother, Salaam, whose son was killed in the 2005 blast. "They don't kill American soldiers; they kill Iraqis. People are afraid."
Indeed, Iraq's fragile social fabric has been shredded by the kinds of bombings, killings, torture, and upheavals that afflicted so many like the Khafaji family – whether at the hands of Sunni extremists like Al Qaeda, Shiite militias, or US and Iraqi forces. While the US lost more than 4,500 soldiers – and spent nearly $1 trillion – the human toll on the Iraqi side is virtually unquantifiable and unimaginable, with estimates of the number of people who perished in the years of insurgency and sectarian civil war reaching into the hundreds of thousands.