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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Disappointment reigns among Iraqis

By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

The attacks of 11 September 2001 set in a train a series of events that were to put the US on a path to attack Iraq. As the second anniversary of the atrocities approaches, Caroline Hawley asks Iraqis for their views on the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the US presence in their country.

A small lake of festering sewage fills the street outside the house of Ali Muhammad, an unemployed labourer from Sadr City on the edge of Baghdad.

A US soldier hands a leaflet to Iraqis in a car
Feelings are mixed about the presence of US troops
Visitors have to pick their way carefully to reach the metal gates of his home, where power cuts are frequent and the water supply intermittent.

For decades, Saddam Hussein's regime neglected the vast sprawling suburb, which was called Saddam City until his fall in April.

Journalists were rarely allowed to visit the area because it was populated by Shia Muslims who were ruthlessly repressed by Saddam Hussein.

But, in the five months since the Americans captured Baghdad, little on the surface seems to have changed in Sadr City. If anything, it's got worse.

"They've not really done anything for us," says Muhammad. "There've been no improvements. But at least we can now sleep at night without worrying that there's be a knock on the door and we'll be carted off to the army. At least we can speak freely."

And speak Iraqis do. "It's no better than under Saddam," says Muhammad's 26-year-old sister, Fatimeh, who complains, like countless Iraqis, about the persistent insecurity in post-Saddam Iraq.

'Dream world'

Saddam Hussein, still on the run today, knew in the immediate aftermath of 11 September that he would be the next target of America's declared "war on terror".

And once President George W Bush had declared to the world that "you are either with us or against us," ordinary Iraqis knew, too, that their leader was in Washington's sights.

The events set in train by 11 September have turned Iraq upside-down, and for most Iraqis the jury is still out on what the future now holds.

Zainab Hussein lost her husband, a former army officer, to Saddam Hussein's gallows in 1998.

He had lost faith in the regime, she says, when he witnessed Saddam Hussein's cousin, Chemical Ali, setting light to a child with a petrol hose in 1991, when Shia were mowed down, en masse, in southern Iraq.

It's a difficult thing for us Muslims to be ruled by Americans - but we could never have got rid of Saddam without them
Coffee shop worker
He had been trying to escape the country with his family when he was arrested in 1996 - and hanged two years later.

"You can't imagine how excited I was when Saddam fell," says Zainab, a secular Iraqi who works in a hotel coffee shop to support her five children.

"I thought the future would change completely. I'd seen the Americans on the TV and watched how they treat even their pets. We thought the streets would be cleared up, that there would be new fashions from America, but so far nothing. Nothing."

She shakes her head and adds: "It was all a dream."

But the 36-year-old widow, on balance, believes the Americans are liberators more than occupiers.

"It's good that they got rid of Saddam Hussein, but the problem is that they haven't changed anything," she says. "I just want them to fulfil their promises to us."

She's also considering pulling her two daughters out of school because, in a city where crime is rampant, she fears they could be kidnapped on their way to school.

No looking back

The hospitals of Sadr City see the effects of Iraq's new crime wave every day.

"In the days of Saddam, I used to treat three people with gunshot injuries every day," says Dr Muhammad Zaid, as he walks down a bare, grimy corridor. "Now it's about 50."

But Dr Zaid believes the country is better off than under Saddam Hussein, whose opponents so often disappeared without trace.

"It's a difficult thing for us Muslims to be ruled by Americans," he says. "But we could never have got rid of Saddam without them. He was a criminal that we thought we'd have to live with forever."

Men protesting in Sadr City
Sadr City has seen a number of protests against US forces
Despite suspicions about America's motives for toppling Saddam Hussein, only the tiniest minority of Iraqis would want him back.

But nor do Iraqis want the Americans around for long. "We're a proud people who won't bow to anyone," says Zainab. "I think if things don't get better, the attacks on the Americans and the killings and bombings will increase."

The violence which post-war Iraq has already unleashed has shocked the world. After the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August, UN staff are still trying to come to terms with the massive explosion that was their "ground zero".

And Saddam must be gloating in his hiding place over the irony that the United States, which toppled him in the name of fighting terror, has now had to concede that Iraq has become a "battlefield" in the war on terror - a magnet for Muslim militants who want to wage war on America.


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