Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iraqis Fear an Uncertain Future

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iraqis Fear an Uncertain Future

Article excerpt

AS JUNE 30 nears, Iraqis are waiting to see whether Washington will observe the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraqi cities. According to the agreement, all U.S. troops (except for an estimated 70,000 who will remain in Iraq as trainers and advisers) are to be withdrawn from the country by December 2011.

Under Sunni President Saddam Hussain, Iraq's minority Sunnis were favored over the majority Shi'i. Even though Shi'i Iraqis are now more proportionately represented in government and other sectors, however, Sunni and Shi'i Iraqis alike expressed mistrust of U.S. intentions. None of the Iraqis interviewed for this article seemed to feel that their lives had improved since the U.S. invaded in 2003.

"U.S. forces entered Iraq six years ago and have not improved my life-ever."

Mohsen Ali, 50, is a former teacher in Baghdad who now calls the city's streets home.

"Saddam Hussain executed my two sons in 2000 after they refused to join the Ba'ath party. They cursed the party and said bad things about it in public, so Saddam executed them,"he explains. "After their death, my wife left me. Now I'm homeless. I sleep in the streets and public squares every day and ask people to help me, so I can live a normal life. This was my life prior to-and since-the arrival of U.S. forces."

Ali, a Shi'i Iraqi, believed his life would improve greatly after the fall of Hussain's regime. "I thought it would be possible to live in a house, even get a small stipend of aid from the new Iraqi government or from the Americans," he says, "but the truth is that my life has not changed. President Bush, before he entered Baghdad in 2003, promised the Iraqi people a better life and a better future."

That future now seems uncertain.

"I do not believe the U.S. troops will get out of Iraq at all," says Mazen Shojaa, 33, "because the goal of America is to control the wealth of Iraq. The U.S. claims that it will leave in 2011, but this is merely an anesthetic for the Iraqi people. They are lying to themselves and the world."

Shojaa, a Sunni from the area of Ghazaliya, west of Baghdad, was unhappy with the entry of U.S. troops into Iraq, because he opposed the country's rule by a foreign force that cared nothing about his people.

"Prior to the occupation," he recalls, "we had a good and normal life, despite some difficulties brought on by the economic blockade imposed by America, and we had freedom, safety and stability."

Shojaa says he now fears for his life every day. While he once hoped that U.S. troops would leave soon, with the emergence of Iranian intervention in Iraq and what he sees as the hegemony of some of Iraq's ruling parties, Shojaa has changed his mind. He now hopes U.S. troops will stay to help Iraqis ward off Iranian influence and interference.

Jamal al-Din Yassin, 56, a grocer from the Karrada district in east Baghdad, disagrees that the U.S. will remain in Iraq past the SOFA deadline, and feels more hopeful about Iraq's future.

"[They will leave] because the U.S. has suffered much from the occupation of Iraq and has had many of its soldiers killed and wounded," he argues.

Like his fellow Shi'i Mohsen Ali, Yassin's life before the occupation was difficult.

"I was bitter and there was a lot of poverty," he says. "We thought the arrival of U.S. troops could change the reality of the situation, but now I'm afraid for myself and my family because of the loss of security and stability in Iraq. …

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