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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Iraqi doubts about liberators

By Peter Greste
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Iraqis watch as US soldiers go on high alert after gunshots are heard in Baghdad
Iraqi patience with the coalition administration is running thin
President George W Bush's declaration that the United States is preparing for a "massive and long-term undertaking" in Iraq will have confirmed the fears of many in Baghdad - that the US is establishing itself as a force for occupation, not liberation.

In his speech in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush spoke of "terrorists, extremists and Saddam loyalists" who have attacked US forces, intimidated Iraqis and destroyed infrastructure.

He warned of foreign fighters entering Iraq, al-Qaeda-related groups waiting to strike and former Iraqi officials "who will stop at nothing" to recover power.

And, he said: "These groups believe they... (will) cause us to leave Iraq before freedom is fully established."

That is not quite how many Iraqis see it.

Questioned intentions

"The problem is that the Americans talk of leaving, perhaps in five years," one Iraqi doctor told me. "But they never explain how they're going to do it.

"They never tell us how they are going to set up an independent government and give us back our political power and control over our own country."

Now I'm not so sure they really care about Iraqis or our freedom
Trader Abdullah Hamid

In truth, few Iraqis support the armed insurgency. Most simply want to get on with their lives and put the violence of the past behind them.

But as the weeks drag on into months without improvements to basic services like water, electricity supplies and telephone lines, it is becoming harder for them to believe that American intentions are good.

Electrical goods trader Abdullah Hamid said he was among those who welcomed the coalition troops as liberators, "but now I'm not so sure they really care about Iraqis or our freedom."

"Saddam at least allowed us to have six hours of sleep a night, by giving us electricity to run the fans and air conditioning," he said.

"But with these Americans, it's becoming impossible. First it's on at midnight, then it goes off two hours later, and comes back again just as you walk out the door. It seems they care about us less than even Saddam."

Unfair criticism

As far as the American administrator Paul Bremer, is concerned, those criticisms are unjustified and reflect a failure to understand the massive logistical problems the new administration is faced with.

"I don't care about why it's not happening," said Abdullah. "The fact is that things are either no better and in some respects worse than under the old regime.

"And it seems to us that oil comes first for the Americans. Our welfare is second."

President Bush
President Bush says the US will remain in Iraq for the long term
For many, the failure to draft a clear plan to transfer power simply reinforces that impression.

For all the words about "fully establishing freedom", the belief here is that the Americans plan either to never leave, or only go when there is a suitably compliant puppet administration in place.

Of course it is probably not the case, and Mr Bremer has plenty of reasons why things are moving along at the current pace.

But that is missing the point. Iraqis expected change.

They believed Washington's pre-war rhetoric that life would be better under the Americans, and that their liberators would go almost as quickly as they came.

Most still want to believe it, though it is becoming increasingly difficult.



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