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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 April 2004, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Viewpoints: Iraq one year on
A nationwide opinion poll commissioned by the BBC to mark the anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq indicated that most Iraqis felt their lives had improved since the days of Saddam Hussein.

But the future of the country still remains highly uncertain. We asked 10 commentators to share their views on whether - a year on - the war has proved justified, and whether Iraq is a better place as a result.

Please use the form at the bottom of the page to tell us what you think. A selection of your emails will be published.

Kanan Makiya, Iraqi writer and academic

Yahia Said, specialist in countries in transition

Joe Stork, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch

Mohammed Sidahmed, Egyptian commentator

Donald Walter, US judge who spent time in Iraq
Rime Allaf, specialist in Middle East affairs

James Phillips, American Middle East expert

Siamand Banaa, Kurdish Regional Government

Dr Martina Fischer, German conflict management expert

Haifa Zangana, Iraqi-born novelist and painter

Kanan Makiya is an Iraqi writer and academic who was prominent in calling for the-US-led invasion. He heads Iraq's Memory Foundation, a museum that will house a collection of state documents on torture and executions.

There is not a shadow of doubt that the war was worth it and that Iraq is moving towards being a better country. Whether or not it will become a fully fledged democracy is another question.

If this experiment fails, it is Europe and the West that will, above all, pay the price. There will be a great regressive movement in this part of the world
Today, Iraqis have hope, where before there was none. There are very good things happening, even on the security front.

People's living standards have not improved equally throughout the country but once the funds that have been promised to Iraq by the US and Japan and others start filtering through the economy, we should see a substantial transformation.

Iraq is a country that is opening up politically, socially and economically. It is also a country that has lived an autocratic, closed existence. People here approach politics like infants.

The central question is the imperative that this should work. Therefore, standing on the edges fighting old battles over whether the war was right is ultimately destructive. If this experiment fails, it is Europe and the West that will, above all, pay the price. There will be a great regressive movement in this part of the world. There will also be a great decline in hope in the possibility of change.

Yahia Said, a specialist in transition issues at the London School of Economics, says a general election in Iraq must take place quickly.

Iraq is a better place without Saddam Hussein's regime but the war has created many problems. State institutions have been destroyed and Iraq's continuity as a state has been disrupted in terms of the tensions created by the occupation both within the country and in the region.

Iraqi interim constitution
An Iraqi interim constitution has already been signed
Regime change, which is ultimately the best outcome of the war, could have been achieved in other ways. The international community had shown great will in the run up to the war to deal with the regime and the threat of weapons proliferation.

Pressure could have been put on Saddam Hussein to accept human rights monitors, who could have enforced some kind of political reform to allow more political parties. There could have been continued inspections and a review of the sanctions regime so that it didn't hurt ordinary Iraqis.

Now, partly because of the situation with the occupation, there is a huge amount of violence in Iraq. A lot of this is intended to ignite civil war.

The transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis should remove a big factor contributing to violence by ending the occupation
The challenge now is to combine speed with legitimacy and it is necessary to start preparing for elections immediately

There are those who argue that early elections with regards to the current level of violence would prevent a free and fair poll, but the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis should remove a big factor contributing to violence by ending the occupation.

One should expect low-level violence to go on for a very long time but at the same time, the economic and political process should be allowed to continue.

Joe Stork is executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

While there have been some substantial human rights gains with the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein, this was not a major objective of the war.

To pretend in retrospect that the Iraq war was justified on humanitarian grounds, given the controversy surrounding the decision to go to war, risks jeopardizing future use of armed intervention for humanitarian purposes when it may be most needed-namely, to halt a mass slaughter of genocidal scope.

Given the Bush administration's retrospective claims of humanitarian purpose, we might have expected greater attention to human rights concerns during the military occupation.

What we saw instead was a failure to deploy sufficient forces trained and equipped for law enforcement responsibilities, contributing to the lamentable security situation that pervades Iraq today.

A year after the start of the war, Iraq remains beset by the legacy of human rights abuses of the former government
There was a pronounced failure initially at least to protect mass gravesites to ensure the preservation of evidence of past atrocities. And the US has strongly resisted the establishment of a special tribunal with the necessary competence and impartiality to provide justice and accountability for Saddam Hussein and other former high government officials.

A year after the start of the war, Iraq remains beset by the legacy of human rights abuses of the former government.

New human rights problems characterize the occupation as well. The occupying powers have provided little information about detainees-reportedly more than 10,000-or their treatment, or undertaken the necessary reviews to justify their continued detention.

Another serious problem is that US military authorities have failed to undertake appropriate high-level investigations into cases of Iraqi civilian deaths that may have resulted from excessive or indiscriminate use of lethal force, contributing to an atmosphere of impunity for US soldiers. Indeed, the US asserts that it does not even try to keep a count of Iraqis killed by US fire during the occupation.

Mohammed Sidahmed is a journalist and commentator for Egyptian daily Al-Ahram newspaper.

The situation in Iraq is not better but worse, and there are long-term consequences for the whole region and the world.

The Americans made a big mistake by not preparing properly for the aftermath of the war. We are now living with the consequences.

Deposing Saddam Hussein was certainly a positive move, but there are better ways to carry out regime change, one that avoids the death, violence and disruption that we are seeing in Iraq at the moment.

And, within the region, the general security situation has deteriorated since the war. On a wider scale, the events in Madrid should be seen as a direct consequence of the war in Iraq.

A woman mourns after the bombing of a Baghdad hotel
Many ordinary Iraqis are being targeted in attacks by insurgents
I do not believe that you can impose democracy. Democracy is a thing that must grow and evolve internally.

For the international community, there is now a severe problem. We need to go back to a time when all parties within the organisation, or at least the Security Council, were equal. The dominance of one party, the United States, over the United Nations and the region is a disastrous thing.

For Israelis and Palestinians, the war in Iraq could have highly detrimental effects. If, as appears to be happening, civil and religious violence in Iraq increases leading to the break-up of Iraq, attempts to reach a settlement in the Middle East will be set back badly.

Donald Walter, an American judge who was sent to Iraq by the US Department of Justice to assist in the reconstruction of the country's judicial system.

In mid-April, 2003, I got a call from the Department of Justice asking if I would be willing to go to Iraq to evaluate the justice system and make recommendations. At the stage, I vehemently opposed the war.

Let me begin with a disclaimer, I was in Iraq for fewer than 40 days - I was in Baghdad for a little over three weeks and in the three provinces of the south for two weeks. I am limited in what I saw and heard.

Having decided to topple Saddam, we cannot abandon those who trust us
But when we left by mid-June, 57 mass graves had been found, one with the bodies of 1,200 children. There were credible reports of murder, brutality and torture of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqi citizens. There was poverty on a monumental scale and fear on a larger one. That fear was still palpable when I was there.

Despite my initial opposition to the war, I am now convinced, whether we find any weapons of mass destruction or prove Saddam sheltered and financed terrorists, absolutely, we should have overthrown the Baathists. Indeed, we should have done it sooner.

We must have the moral courage to see this through to do whatever it takes to secure responsible government for the Iraqi people. The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news may destroy our will to fulfill the obligations we have assumed. We are not getting the whole truth from the news media - what we watch, listen to and read is highly selective. Good news does not sell.

Having decided to topple Saddam, we cannot abandon those who trust us.

Rime Allaf, Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

The Americans and British planned poorly for the aftermath of the war. When you take over a country and completely dismantle the army and other state infrastructures, such as the Baath party, you have total chaos.

A Japanese serviceman helps children on their way to school
Security must be restored to bring a semblance of normality
The dire security situation is not confined to the tragic bombings but extends to personal security. For example, kidnappings are raging - ordinary families are targeted by criminals for money and are forced to scrape together thousands of dollars for ransoms. There is no proper police force that people can turn to, and the coalition troops don't deal with these issues. This gives different militias a place to develop.

Security must be restored, as must basic utilities, electricity, water, sewage, to bring a semblance of normality. Bush asked Congress for $18bn but we still haven't seen most of that. It's a drop in the ocean compared to over $200bn damage caused by war and sanctions.

The UN must return, but only if the Anglo-American coalition begins respecting international law.

It would help to internationalise the reconstruction effort. The Americans have been very selective about their contractors; they now need to take a more conciliatory tone with EU and Nato partners.

There were different positions before the war, but a year on, all must be allowed to participate, including Iraq's neighbours Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, in reconstruction. Stability depends on home-grown socio-economic and political contentment, so it's ultimately in everyone's benefit to make the whole region safer, and more prosperous.

James Phillips is a Middle East analyst at the US conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation.

A year after the onset of the war, it is safe to say the that US is better off than it was before the war. Moreover, our allies are better off and the Iraqi people are certainly better off.

Iraqi oil pipeline
Oil production is almost at its pre-war levels
On balance, the war has enhanced US national security interests in the volatile Middle East and there has been a net plus in the war against international terrorism.

First and foremost, Iraq has been transformed from a bitter foe into a potential ally.

True, weapons of mass destruction have not yet been found, but that does not necessarily mean they are not there. The US has found banned missiles and weapons programmes with surge production capabilities for the rapid creation of chemical and biological weapons.

The liberation of Iraq and Iraqi efforts to build a working democracy there have had positive ripple effects in the Middle East
Another often overlooked aspect of the war is its moral dimension. Saddam Hussein is no longer killing Iraqis. After the war, mass graves were found with an estimated 300,000 bodies in them. This greatly exceeded the death toll in Kosovo.

Another important gain from the war has been an improvement in global energy security. Saddam's regime was at the centre of several oil crises: the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the 1980 invasion of Iran, which disrupted oil production there, the 1987 "Oil Tanker War", which disrupted oil exports after Iran tried to interdict Kuwaiti oil exports, and Saddam's pre-war threats to use oil as an economic weapon.

Now, Iraq is free to expand production and is likely to attract considerable foreign investment for doing so.

Siamand Banaa, UK representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The US-led war was the greatest blessing bestowed on Iraq for a very long time.

Iraqis can now take the example from the Kurdish region and decide their own future.

Kurds in Irbil
The Kurdish people held elections in 1992
We held elections in the Kurdish areas in 1992 and the two main parties that won are now running things. Our region is one of the most prosperous, most enlightened and one of the most democratic regions in the Middle East.

I'm sure the rest of the Iraq will be the same once the people have shaken off the inhibitions and ugly residues of past despotism from their minds.

The Iraqi Governing Council has not been elected but we can safely say that it represents nearly 80% of Iraq currents, trends, religions, sections and nationalities of Iraq. Therefore, it so it is the most representative government in the entire Middle East.

Iraqis must realise that they are now in charge and not to their so-called proxies, representatives and religious parties.

Some people automatically abhor foreign invasion but the reality is that Saddam Hussein could never have been removed by popular resistance or within the country itself.

We tried very hard and hundreds of thousands of people paid with their lives. Now, this most despotic of tyrants has been toppled and our country is free.

Dr Martina Fischer, an analyst at Germany's Berghof Centre for Constructive Conflict Management.

The fact that Iraqis, as a number of surveys have shown, are pleased that Saddam Hussein has been toppled is without a doubt a positive side-effect of the war. But I maintain that it is a war that was unjustified when it was launched, and it remains that way.

one of the most dangerous consequences of this war is that respect for international law has been so seriously damaged
Many of the negative predictions of what war would bring have come to pass. Violence and insecurity - both physical and political - plague Iraq, with a new culture of killing and murder developing that we would not have seen but for the war. There are major issues with the reconstruction of the country, the ongoing occupation - which is becoming increasingly unpopular - and the transition to democracy.

At the same time, far from making the world a safer place, the war in Iraq appears to have provided an extensive recruiting potential for international terrorists. The attack in Spain can be seen in this light. Many expect further attacks.

But on a matter of principle, one of the most dangerous consequences of this war is that respect for international law has been so seriously damaged. It was cast aside when this war was started, and the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike established.

What is to stop this happening again? It is crucial that Europe joins together and stands up to America's use of force to achieve political hegemony.

Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi-born novelist and painter. The former political prisoner recently returned to Baghdad for the first time since 1975.

None of the women I met when I returned to Baghdad regretted getting rid of Saddam Hussein. But, a year on, things haven't changed much for them - life is a continual struggle.

The main problem is the absence of law and order and the availability of weapons. The Americans are not doing enough to protect people and women and children in particular are risking their lives every time they leave the house.

Many women had high hopes that at the end of the war, they would be able to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq. But this was dashed only months after the occupation began.

There have been initiatives to try to encourage Iraqi women to play an active role but they are remote-control initiatives, directed from outside and not really involving ordinary Iraqi women.

There are some women working within the Governing Council, but these are elite groups that are unable to interact with ordinary women. It is not safe for them to go out and about because they are targeted as collaborators.

We need grassroots movements working on an independent basis to be separated from the occupation force and the governing council and also from the parties represented in the council. Women are fed up with the parties but they are all for democracy, human rights and they want to get involved.

Many Iraq women were employed under Saddam Hussein's regime and are desperate to get back to work but there are two main problems: men are given preference and unless you can get a tazkia, or recommendation, from one of the political parties in the Governing Council, it is almost impossible to get a job.

Ultimately the Council is seen to be protecting the interests of the occupation rather than representing the Iraqi people.

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