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Iraq, 10 years on: Did invasion bring 'hope and progress' to millions as Bush vowed?

Posted by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 1:56 AM
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This week marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. ITV's John Irvine in Baghdad assesses a country that remains gripped by the violence of its sectarian divide.

When the administration of President George W. Bush planned the invasion of Iraq, hopes ran high that the massive deployment of troops and money wouldn’t just result in the toppling of Saddam Hussein: The United States would help create a country that stood as an example to others. 

Ten years ago Tuesday, Bush announced military operations "to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger." He warned that the coalition campaign "could be longer and more difficult than some predict," but vowed to give the Iraqis a "united, stable and free country."

In a speech only weeks earlier, the president had stressed that "a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions."

In a televised statement to the nation, President George W. Bush announces "early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq."

An estimated $61 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds later, reality has fallen short of these expectations.

An estimated 189,000 people -- including Iraqi civilians, U.S. troops and journalists -- were killed in the war in Iraq since 2003. The country is considered one of the most corrupt in the world, and many of the improvements promised have not materialized. Sectarian tensions regularly explode into open violence.  

And yet Iraq is now OPEC’s second-largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia. It is headed toward becoming the world’s second-largest oil exporter after Russia in 20 years. The civil war that raged after the invasion is over, and elections have been held in which Iraqis vote at relatively high rates.

On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, NBC News asked Iraqis and experts to assess how life had changed.

Utilities and services
Omar Qais, 34, a private security worker from Baghdad:

In the ten years since guided bombs brought "shock and awe" to Baghdad, almost 4,500 troops and 130,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and Saddam Hussein has been captured and executed in a mission that has cost nearly $2 trillion. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

“The infrastructure, and the services … were bad, but now it is even worse.”

Mohammad Jabir, 33, unemployed with two children:

“There isn’t ... one good service.  It has gone from bad to worse.”

Iraq is a rich country when it comes to natural resources.

“Iraq stands to gain almost $5 trillion in revenues from oil exports over the period to 2035, an annual average of $200 billion and an opportunity to transform the country’s future prospects,” according to the International Energy Agency.

But much of that wealth has yet to trickle down to the population in the form of jobs and services. 

Unemployment stands at 15 percent and youth unemployment at 30 percent, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Twenty-three percent of the population lives in extreme hunger, it adds.

“Iraq faces considerable challenges in sanitation,” according to a 2010 U.N. report. Only 26 percent of household are covered by the public sewage network, it added.

Karim Kadim / AP

Iraqis sift through garbage for recyclable materials at a dump in the Sadr City area of Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday. According to the manager of the dump, the people who salvage plastic and aluminum make an average of $8 per day re-selling the materials.

About two-thirds of homes depend on the public water supply as their primary source for drinking water, but a quarter of these reported that they got potable water for under two hours per day, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s January 2012 report.

Electricity is the worst-rated service in Iraq, according to the Iraq Knowledge Network, a monitoring system set up by the country’s planning ministry. Households get on average 7.6 hours of electricity from the national grid per day, it said.

Medical services leave much to be desired. In the region, only Yemen has a higher infant mortality rate, for example. Malaria, however, has been almost eliminated, according to the U.N.

Iranian influence
Mahmoud Ali Othman, Kurdish politician and member of the Iraqi National Assembly:

In a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, President George W. Bush announces that the United States and allies "have prevailed" in military operations in Iraq.

“Maybe Iran has benefited more than any other country from what has happened, and some people even say America handed Iraq to Iran. But don’t forget the Iranian regime has had relations with all the Iraqi political forces when they were in the opposition, so this relation has continued after Saddam was toppled.”

Maria Fantappie, Iraq analyst, International Crisis Group:

“Iran's influence, and that of other powers, is directly proportional to the level of instability of the Iraqi government. Potential for Iranian influence increases the moment there is an unstable situation in Baghdad.”

On March 12, the navies of Iraq and Iran signed an agreement that called for joint drills and more cooperation, according to reports in Iran.  This was the latest sign of the deepening links between Baghdad and Tehran, with whom the United States has a hostile relationship.

Khalid Mohammed / AP

Iraqis visit the Shaheed Monument in Baghdad on March 5. Saddam Hussein had the split teardrop-shaped sculpture built in the middle of a man-made lake in the early 1980s to commemorate Iraqis killed in the Iran-Iraq War. The names of hundreds of thousands of fallen Iraqi soldiers are inscribed in simple Arabic script around the base. In recent years, the Shiite-led government has begun turning it into a museum honoring the victims of Saddam's Sunni-dominated but largely secular regime.

And according to reports, Iran helped persuade the government of Nouri al-Maliki to deny American forces judicial immunity against prosecution. Western countries then canceled plans to maintain a military presence in the country after the 2011 withdrawal.

The links go beyond the political and military: Iranian companies are increasing market share in Iraq’s booming economy, and streams of Iranian pilgrims regularly visit the Shiite holy sites in Karbala and Najaf.

This is a far cry from the 1980s, when the two countries fought a war that killed more than a million people.

Rule of law and security
Rawa Naime, head of a local nongovernmental organization:

“Security-wise, it is definitely not better. On the contrary, it is worse.”

March 20, 2003: On a special edition of TODAY, NBC's Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Jim Miklaszewski and Kerry Sanders report on the first day of the Iraq War.

Peter Batchelor, country director, United Nations Development Program in Iraq:

“Quality of life and access to services in many areas are worse than they were 30 years ago. Violence has dropped, but it is still high enough that it limits people’s access to services.”

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui:

“Iraq remains caught in a cycle of torture and impunity that should long ago have been broken.”

Toby Dodge, political scientist and expert on the Middle East:

“Iraq’s special forces are in effect the personal coercive tool of its prime minister, his Praetorian guard, used to secure competitive authoritarianism.”

While the numbers of civilian deaths have fallen from the tens of thousands a year seen after the U.S. invasion and in the ensuing civil war, many Iraqis are not safe from acts of terror and sometimes even from their own government. 

On Tuesday, car bombs and a suicide blast hit Shiite districts of Baghdad and south of Iraq's capital, killing at least 50 people. And on Thursday, a string of explosions tore through the capital. This was followed by a coordinated raid by gunmen of a government building. At least 24 people were killed, and dozens more were wounded.

The violence comes despite the massive numbers added to the country’s security forces. According to The Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank, Iraq’s security forces stood at just under 100,000 in 2003. In 2011 that number had reached 670,000.

Meanwhile, Iraq remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  According to Transparency International’s widely recognized rankings, the country came 169th out of a list of 176.

There are regional differences. For example, Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country protected under the no-fly zone before 2003, has prospered and been relatively free of violence, although its government has also been rocked by corruption scandals.

Democracy and sectarian tensions
Mohammad Jabir, 33, unemployed with two children:

“Back then, when Saddam was in power, we were oppressed. Now there is freedom. Me as a Shiite, I can practice my rituals, so it is definitely better than before.”

Mohammad Jabir, 33, unemployed with two children:

“Sectarianism is like a slow cancer that is spreading through the Iraqi people.”

Mahmoud Ali Othman, Kurdish politician and member of the Iraqi National Assembly:

One year after the U.S. military pullout, Iraq teeters between statehood and failure. NBC News' Jim Maceda reports.

“The whole government has weak performance because the ministers and the key figures have been appointed on political bases. Qualification comes second. ... This has created a weak performance at the level of the government and at the level of the municipality.”

Rawa Naime, head of a local nongovernmental organization:

“We have suffered from the sectarian violence, especially liberated and cultured women… There are some sides that want the sectarian war that we had in 2006 and 2007 to come back.  But there is a section of our society that does not want that to come back. There are those who love peace, who think there is no difference between Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkomans and Christians.”

Maria Fantappie, Iraq analyst, International Crisis Group:

“The biggest mistake of the 2003 invasion was to understand the country only as composed of three separate communities, without regard to the building of Iraq on the basis of an Iraqi identity."

Under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, members of the Shiite and Kurdish communities were violently oppressed (Hussein also oppressed Sunnis).  Since the fall of Saddam, the majority Shiites have become the dominant group in society.  The government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been accused of fomenting sectarian divisions to secure his party’s position in power. 

While the sectarian violence that swept Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion has receded, there has been a recent increase in deadly attacks against Shiites, the government and security forces. And in recent months, Sunnis throughout the country have staged mass protests to demand fairer treatment from the central government and the release of thousands who they say have been detained illegally.

March 20, 1993: NBC News Special on the first coalition casualties and the first day of the war in Iraq reported by Tom Brokaw, Dennis Murphy and David Bloom.

The unrest is piling pressure on the country's sectarian balance. 

And like so much else in Iraq, those inside and out are not sure whether the future will bring the prosperity and peace promised by the Bush White House, or spiraling violence, insecurity and impunity.

When asked to comment for this story, a State Department official said that both Iraq and the U.S. had "made tremendous sacrifices to deliver this new chapter in our relationship, and our energy is squarely focused on the future."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added:

"I’ll leave the retrospectives to the historians to discuss and the Iraqi and American people to assess. ... 

"On Iraqi progress, we understand that many challenges remain in Iraq and that it continues to evolve after decades of isolation and war. It is unrealistic to expect a unified democracy to develop in such a short period of time. Likewise, the evolution that is necessary to resolve the differences found in Iraq will require generational change and a sustained commitment to its democratic and economic development.

"One should not forget to reflect on just how far Iraq has come in a short time.  While there have been short-term setbacks, Iraq’s trajectory is positive."

Iraqi government officials did not respond to requests for comment.

NBC News' Jeffrey Ackermann and Catherine Chomiak contributed to this report.

The last 480 troops left Iraq early Sunday morning in high spirits, happy to be heading home for the holidays. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 1:56 AM
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by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 2:20 AM
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I wish I did not see this post. I don't even have to read it to know it has effected our lives. Now Iraq is destroyed and we can't go back. My dad bought us a beautiful home in the middle of paradise. He paid $10,000.00 for that home and now it is worth $750,000.00 but it's not in the middle of paradise anymore. Now it sits in the middle of ruins.

Nothing will ever be the same again.

by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 2:38 AM
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My home before the Americans came






by Silver Member on Jun. 12, 2014 at 2:40 AM
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What we did there is a complete joke, and we saved nothing and nobody. We did create a total power vacuum for Iran, though. What a scam.
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by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 2:46 AM
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Quoting shannonnigans: What we did there is a complete joke, and we saved nothing and nobody. We did create a total power vacuum for Iran, though. What a scam.

 It has not given the Iranis any kind of power. It did allow the Shiah from the south who go by the same school of thought as the Iranis to finally up rise something we thanks to Saddam Hussein where able to keep under control so Iraqis could life free of radicalism and violence.

Now there is nothing.

by Silver Member on Jun. 12, 2014 at 3:17 AM
I'm not sure I followed your punctuation very well, or maybe I'm tired, or you're tired, or both, but I think we are in large part in agreement on this. We left a huge mess that has gone far beyond the lives that were lost. Unfortunately for the Iraqi people, it's the gift that keeps on giving.
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by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 3:39 AM
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Quoting shannonnigans: I'm not sure I followed your punctuation very well, or maybe I'm tired, or you're tired, or both, but I think we are in large part in agreement on this. We left a huge mess that has gone far beyond the lives that were lost. Unfortunately for the Iraqi people, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

 I'm sorry often when writing my English is not good and it's worse if I am tired and have to think about the right word. Plus my typing sounds like I sound for my accents lol so I am sure I am hard to follow without hearing me speak.

What I am trying to say is it did not put Iran in any kind of power advancement. It bring out the Shiah Muslims from south of Baghdad who follow the same school of thought as Iran but they are still Iraqi nor Irani

Saddam ran our country with an iron fist to keep these trouble makers from up rising. He did not give them any kind of chance to organize and up rise and kept the country secular where the Sunni majority, Chaldean and Assyria Christians were safe.

After USA captured Saddam and frred all the trouble making Shiah's who had tried to up rise out of the prisons some of which had been there 10 or 20 years then they took over everything with no real authority in place who can control them.

In addition it allowed for Al Queida to come. Now they are fighting the Shiah for control. We didn't have terrorist before. Saddam he didn't give them a chance either. If they tried they were executed. Now Sunni majority and Chaldean Christian are in too much danger. If they hide in their homes and don't allow them self to be noticed to be a target they still have to worry about getting caught in cross fire from Al-Queida and Shiah fighting each other for control.

Maybe your house or whole villiage will be blown up, your place of employment, the market while you are shopping.

It is a big disaster.

by Gold Member on Jun. 12, 2014 at 3:58 AM
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South Vietnam has company.

I remembered 3 years ago, basically being the only person saying that the US shouldn't leave. Everyone telling me I was wrong, but sadly I was correct.

There's just going to be more killing in this civil war. A power vacuum doesn't foster peace.
by on Jun. 12, 2014 at 5:39 PM
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 They should not have gone there in the first place and eliminated the only thing holding the country together, keeping it safe, and secular. Just to defy the whole system USA put in Shiah is the control they are in. They could have left it alone and let life be like it was before when we could feel safe, live in our own home instead of stay 10,000 miles away, and the economy was flourishing in spite of their stupid sanctions.

Quoting Donna6503: South Vietnam has company. I remembered 3 years ago, basically being the only person saying that the US shouldn't leave. Everyone telling me I was wrong, but sadly I was correct. There's just going to be more killing in this civil war. A power vacuum doesn't foster peace.


by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2014 at 5:43 PM

Things don't look so good in Iraq now.

Iraq Insurgency: Militants Plan To March On Baghdad After Seizing 2 Key Sunni Cities

BAGHDAD (AP) — Islamic militants who seized cities and towns vowed Thursday to march on Baghdad to settle old scores, joined by Saddam Hussein-era loyalists and other disaffected Sunnis capitalizing on the government's political paralysis over the biggest threat to Iraq's stability since the U.S. withdrawal.

Trumpeting their victory, the militants also declared they would impose Shariah law in Mosul and other areas they have captured.

In northern Iraq, Kurdish security forces moved to fill the power vacuum — taking over an air base and other posts abandoned by the military in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk. The move further raised concern the country could end up partitioned into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish zones.

Three planeloads of Americans were being evacuated from a major Iraqi air base in Sunni territory north of Baghdad, U.S. officials said, and Germany urged its citizens to immediately leave parts of Iraq, including Baghdad.

President Barack Obama said Iraq will need more help from the United States, but he did not specify what it would be willing to provide. Senior U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name said Washington is considering whether to conduct drone missions in Iraq.

The U.N. Security Council met on the crisis, underscoring the growing international alarm over the stunning advances by fighters from the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had asked parliament to declare a state of emergency that would give him and his Shiite-led government increased powers to run the country, but the lawmakers failed to assemble a quorum.

The Islamic State, whose Sunni fighters have captured large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, aims to create an Islamic emirate spanning both sides of the border. It has pushed deep into parts of Iraq's Sunni heartland once controlled by U.S. forces because police and military forces melted away after relatively brief clashes, including in Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul.

Skirmishes continued in several areas. Two communities near Tikirt — the key oil refining center of Beiji and the city of Samarra, home to a prominent Shiite shrine — remained in government hands, according to Iraqi intelligence officials. The price of oil jumped to above $106 a barrel as the insurgency raised the risk of disruptions to supplies.

In its statement, the Islamic State declared it would start implementing its strict version of Shariah law in Mosul and other regions it had overrun. It said women should stay in their homes for modesty reasons, warned it would cut off the hands of thieves, and told residents to attend daily prayers. It said Sunnis in the military and police should abandon their posts and "repent" or else "face only death."

The Islamic State's spokesman vowed to take the fight into Baghdad. In a sign of the group's confidence, he even boasted that its fighters will take the southern Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, which hold two of the holiest shrines for Shiite Muslims.

"We will march toward Baghdad because we have an account to settle there," he said in an audio recording posted on militant websites commonly used by the group. The statement could not be independently verified.

Baghdad does not appear to be in imminent danger of a similar assault, although Sunni insurgents have stepped up car bombings and suicide attacks in the capital recently.

While ISIL fighters gained the most attention in this week's swift advances, it was increasingly clear that other Sunnis were joining the uprising.

Several militant groups posted photos on social media purporting to show Iraqi military hardware captured by their own fighters, suggesting a broader-based rebellion like that in neighboring Syria.

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, overrun by militants Wednesday, witnesses said fighters raised posters of the late dictator and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his former deputy who escaped the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and eluded security forces ever since.

Fighters loyal to his Naqshabandi Army as well as former members of Saddam's Baath Party were the main militant force in Tikrit on Thursday, said a resident who identified himself by his nickname, Abu Mohammed, out of concern for his safety. He said about 300 soldiers surrendered near the governor's office — a spectacle captured in multiple amateur videos posted online.

Lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili as well as two senior intelligence officials, who were not authorized to talk to the press, confirmed the involvement of al-Douri's group and other former Baathists and Saddam-era military commanders. That could escalate the militants' campaign to establish an al-Qaida-like enclave into a wider Sunni uprising and lead to breaking up the country along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi ambassador to the U.N., said the rapid fall of Mosul and Tikrit required trust from the local population — something ISIL or al-Douri wouldn't necessarily have on their own.

"Ordinary citizens feel disenfranchised and have no stake in the state anymore," he said. "This is an alliance of convenience where multiple disaffected groups have come to defeat ... a common foe. "

With its large Shiite population, Baghdad would be a far harder target for the militants. So far, they have stuck to the Sunni heartland and former Sunni insurgent strongholds where people are already alienated by al-Maliki's government over allegations of discrimination and mistreatment. The militants also would likely meet far stronger resistance, not only from government forces but by Shiite militias.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shiite militia vowed to defend Shiite holy sites, raising the specter of street clashes and sectarian killings.

Baghdad authorities tightened security and residents stocked up on essentials.

"Everybody I know is worried for the safety of his family as the militants are advancing to Baghdad," said Hazim Hussein, a Shiite shopowner and father of three.

Another Baghdad merchant, Mohammed Abdul-Rahim, a Sunni, lamented that the "future of this country looks more dim than any time in modern Iraqi history."

Hundreds of young men crowded in front of the main army recruiting center in Baghdad on Thursday after authorities urged Iraqis to help battle the insurgents.

Security officials said the Islamic State fighters managed to take control of two weapons depots holding 400,000 items, including AK-47 rifles, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades, artillery shells and mortars. A quarter of the stockpiles were sent to Syria, they said.

The advances by the Sunni militants are a heavy defeat for al-Maliki. His Shiite-dominated political bloc came first in April parliamentary elections — the first since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011 — but failed to gain a majority, forcing him to try to build a governing coalition.

"We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter," Obama said in Washington.

Al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have pleaded with the Obama administration for more than a year for additional help to combat the growing insurgency.

Britain and France said it was up to Iraqi authorities to deal with terrorism and worsening security, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the rapid advances by the militants proved the invasion of Iraq 11 years ago had been a fiasco.

"What is happening in Iraq is an illustration of the total failure of the adventure undertaken primarily by the U.S. and Britain and which they have let slip completely out of control," Lavrov was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying.

In Shiite powerhouse Iran, President Hassan Rouhani blasted the Islamic State as "barbaric." Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered support in a phone call with his Iraqi counterpart, Iranian TV reported. Iran has halted flights to Baghdad because of security concerns and has intensified security on its borders.

The U.N. Security Council urged a national dialogue including all political and religious groups in Iraq but took no action after discussing the crisis and hearing a closed briefing from the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.

Diplomatic efforts were underway to free 80 Turkish citizens held by militants in Mosul, an official in the Turkish prime minister's office said. The captives include 49 people seized in the Turkish consulate Wednesday, said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Kurdish fighters from the ethnic group's autonomous enclave in the north showed signs of taking a greater role in fighting back against the ISIL. Their role is a potential point of friction because both Sunni and Shiite Arabs are wary of Kurdish claims on territory.

Kurdish security forces known as peshmerga took over an air base and other posts abandoned by Iraqi forces in Kirkuk, Brig. Halogard Hikmat, a senior peshmerga official told The Associated Press. He denied reports the whole city was under peshmerga control.


Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Paris, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Desmond Butler in Istanbul, Nasser Karimi in Tehran and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.


by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2014 at 5:54 PM
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Quoting Donna6503: South Vietnam has company. I remembered 3 years ago, basically being the only person saying that the US shouldn't leave. Everyone telling me I was wrong, but sadly I was correct. There's just going to be more killing in this civil war. A power vacuum doesn't foster peace.

And the same thing will happen in Afghanistan, as well. 

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