BAGHDAD, Dec 20 (IPS) – Despite the parliamentary elections last week and temporary ease in violence, Iraqis remain bitter about the outgoing year, and sceptical of 2006.
“As a doctor I usually travel daily from home to college,” said Um Feras, a doctor of physics at Baghdad University who asked that her last name be changed for her protection. “2005 was a terrible year, and now it has become unacceptable for me to leave my house to go teach due to the troops, who always where sunglasses even on gloomy days, aiming their rifles at everyone like they are gangsters.”
The majority of Iraqis in Baghdad now fear the security forces, as dozens of people each week are “disappeared” by police and soldiers around the city and new torture chambers have been discovered recently.
Dr. Feras told IPS that the daily chaos on the streets of Baghdad, such as closed roads and bridges, always caused her to be late, as well as most of her students.
“Nothing is good in Iraq now,” said the doctor. “Torture, detained friends, pillaging of houses, seeing neighbors suffering from poverty, no electricity, no water and gun fights everywhere. We have no relief from this suffering now.”
Electricity in Baghdad remains far below pre-war levels, with most houses enjoying 3-5 hours per day. Meanwhile, oil exports in December have sunk to a two-year low while up to 22 percent of the 21 billion dollar set aside by the U.S. government for reconstruction projects in Iraq has been diverted to security, according to Dan Speckhard, the director of the Iraq reconstruction management office, who made the announcement to reporters earlier this month.
Asked about her hopes and expectations for 2006, the doctor says: “I only want a normal life far away from the interests of those bastards who invaded our country. I don’t care about the elections and politics and the new political parties because these are just a small part of the strategy of the invaders.”
The doctor began to cry then added: “My dream for the coming year is that the invaders pull out, we have Iraqis who love one another to govern Iraq, we build something related to civilization and have emotions towards our land and lives in order to get back to the situation where each of us loves the other and we feel the good will of God.”
She paused for reflection before saying, “But I can’t say this will happen.”
Other Iraqis, like 40 year-old leather worker Ismael Mohammed feel similarly.
“2005 was worse than 2004 because the coalition forces are still handling everything tightly in their hands and nothing has changed except the faces of the governors,” he told IPS in Baghdad, “They are trying to get everything they can from Iraq, meanwhile financially it is getting worse, fuel [availability] is worse and the roads are worse.”
His feelings about the infrastructure are common around Baghdad, as Iraq is suffering an unemployment rate of over 50 percent, oil exports remain below pre-war levels, and the infrastructure remains in shambles amidst the broken promises of the Bush Administration.
“Democracy? Where is our democracy?” asked Mohammed who said his best day of 2005 was when one of his cousins was released from Abu Ghraib, “Freedom? People shout with no one to hear. Everything goes with a bribe now. You want to be a professor-easy, just give me the money and you are a professor.”
Mohammed told IPS he remains sad and perplexed as to why his cousin was recently killed. “We are Shia. Yet he was killed.”
And he asks: “Who profits from this constitution because we already had one? Who is profiting from all of this? Iraqi leather used to be the best all over the Middle East, but now it even seems as though the rain has stopped falling in Iraq, as my trade has stopped growing. Now we even have to import leather!”
According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank, the value of Halliburton stock, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s old military company to which he still has financial ties, has increased 138 percent since March 2003. Halliburton has been awarded at least 10 billion dollar in contracts for their operations in Iraq.
Meanwhile, U.S. citizens aren’t benefiting from the occupation either. The average monthly cost of the Iraq war for the U.S. is 5.6 billion dollar for a total of over 225 billion dollar thus far, pushing their national debt over 8 trillion dollar, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury. For 2006, Mohammed voiced the dreams of many Iraqis.
“To get rid of the invaders and have God give back blessings to the people of Iraq,” Mohammed told IPS. “We want good people in positions of authority who will compensate Iraqis who have suffered. I would like to see Iraqis work as one unit, putting the good of the country ahead of divisions between them and to go on dealing as humans.”
Mohammed added: “We need a lot of work to obtain true sovereignty and to cure the problems brought by the invaders, as independence isn’t so easy that we can get it in one year. Democracy cannot be given as simple as that; we have to work hard for it and educate people to get it.”