A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2009, pages 26, 50
Iraqis Fear an Uncertain Future
By Sarah Price and Nizar Latif
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agreement, all U.S. troops (except for an estimated 70,000 who will remain in Iraq as trainers and advisers) are to be withdrawn from the country by December 2011.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.”
Unlike Shojaa, however, Yassin believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made great strides in rebuilding and strengthening Iraq’s security forces, enabling them to take a leadership role in establishing stability in their country.
“I feel that the exit of U.S. troops will not affect the security on the ground much,” he explains, “because Iraq in two years will be far more powerful than it is now.”
Muhammad Ali Ghani, 36, a Shi’i schoolteacher from Sadr City, also had high hopes for what the U.S. troops could do for Iraq, but disagrees that al-Maliki’s government is ready to take over.
“We were pleased with the entry of U.S. troops in Iraq, because we thought America would save Iraq from the dictatorship and abuses of Saddam,” says Ghani. “I was one of the first ones running to welcome the U.S. forces.”
But it soon became apparent that the U.S. didn’t know much about occupying a country, he continues, and the mistakes made in disbanding the Iraqi security forces opened the door to lawlessness, benefitting al-Qaeda and other militia groups.
“The loss of security in Iraq and the spread of corruption in the country and the decline of industry and agriculture all made me feel scared in Iraq,” Ghani says. “I don’t know where to go or what to expect in the future. The Iraqi government’s performance so far is weak. If Iraq doesn’t help itself with national political reconciliation, and by building strong army intelligence and security forces that can function on their own when the U.S. leaves, it could lead to renewed instability. Iraq may disintegrate and become subject to the small neighboring countries.”
Samah Moueen, 48, a Shi’i widow from the new Baghdad district, lost her husband in the Iraq/Iran war. She supports her two daughters by working as a cleaner in a small school in east Baghdad.
In Moueen’s opinion, “It would be very difficult for the U.S. troops to leave Iraq; I think they will stay more than a hundred years. American policy will not change with the Democrats in power. It won’t change no matter what the circumstances. The Americans have been planning to occupy Iraq for more than 40 years. They waited patiently for Iraq to be weak so they could have control over oil resources. America obtained the Iraqi cake and the victim is the Iraqi people, who have suffered the terrorism of al-Qaeda and the militias because of the U.S. occupation.
“I imagine that Iraq will be a real battlefield when the U.S. troops leave, because it doesn’t currently have security forces that can take control,” she worries. “And we also have Iran, which carries a significant weight. Its influence is strong and plays a very negative role in Iraq. So, I hope that the U.S. troops do not leave in 2011. The worst thing for women in Iraq would be if the party that took control was from Iran, or the Islamic government in Iraq.”
As for Mohsen Ali, he says he will continue to hope for the best.
“When the U.S. troops leave Iraq, I hope to find a safe place to live away from the fighting, because I expect that there will be a very bloody sectarian war,” he says. “I will stay sleeping on the streets for the rest of my life, and I have to find a street where I can sleep better. I dream for a good future, either by the Americans or the Iraqi government.”
Free-lance journalists Sarah Price, based in Los Angeles, and Nizar Latif, based in Iraq, have written from and about the Middle East for numerous publications.