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.
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Reclaiming a trajectory of progress will be crucial in a nation that still reels from poor development statistics. The United Nations estimates that 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, on less than $2.20 a day. Almost one-quarter of children under the age of 5 are considered "chronically malnourished. School attendance has dropped in the past 30 years.Skip to next paragraph
"There are many [challenges], but I think there are also many opportunities.... We are now at a very important transition in Iraq's development," said Peter Batchelor, the Iraq director for the UN Development Program, while announcing a $400 million initiative to support the government's development plan over four years.
"Iraqi citizens are beginning to understand and demand their rights," said Mr. Batchelor. The many demonstrations of the past few months show "that Iraqis have particularly been interested in ... jobs, youth, anticorruption, and human rights."
Yet underneath it all, fundamental questions loom. With the US gone, will violence spike? Will there be enough peace to keep rebuilding, to begin healing? Can nearly two years of Iraqi political deadlock, carved out along sectarian lines by the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki, be overcome?
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The survivors of the first Hamra bombing – and of a second one in January 2010, which shut down the hotel – symbolize some of the dilemmas facing Iraqis today. Living in the shadow of the ruins of an apartment building wrecked in 2005, one family has built a cinder-block dwelling just strides away from the point of impact, right in the street.
Six years ago, neighbors wailed and wept as they pulled the dead and wounded from the debris. The crater filled with water from burst pipes; today bushes grow from it. The apartment building is still marked by a mountain of rubble and twisted girders alongside. High above, lone shoots of long grass reach skyward from the sagging concrete roof.
"There will be some problems. Everybody wants power," says Suad Mohammed, an Iraqi mother and former hotel cleaner, as she stands at the entrance to her "house."
A blue tarp draped across the roof keeps dust and water at bay. American helicopters fly overhead, providing surveillance for an official convoy in the area. Children play with chicks in a cardboard box.
"We don't care about [political] power – we want to live," says Suad's sister-in-law, Anaam Mohammed. Then she asks a translator about this reporter: "Doesn't he know that all our government are thieves?"
While concern about violence endures, pessimism in Iraq today runs far deeper about those in power – whether Iraq's ever-bickering politicians can lead the nation to a better, post-US future. "People go to parliament for their own profit and their power, not to do their best for the Iraqi nation," says Salaam.
Iraqis are still clearly coming to terms with their post-Hussein "freedom." Despite the wave of Arab Spring revolts that have so far brought down dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, street protests in Baghdad have been met with violence and intimidation from pro-government thugs.