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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Iraqis' struggle for peace

Paul Wood

The BBC's Middle East correspondent Paul Wood returns to Baghdad, a city plagued by insecurity. Here, he explores the prospects for peace in Iraq.

Outside a Baghdad television shop, two men argue fiercely.

Iraqi police and US soldiers
Iraq's own police are unable to restore peace
One of the sets atop a stack still in boxes crashes to the ground.

An American soldier in a passing Humvee jerks around and opens fire.

One of the men is shot dead. The Humvee does not stop.

This is typical of the many stories you hear in Baghdad these days.

A foreign cameraman was there, so the details can largely be confirmed.

It shows how this whole city is wracked with tension.

Last week, at the end of our street, four people were shot dead in an attempted car-jacking.

Iraqi fathers don't let their daughters out alone for fear of rape or kidnap.

There have been four massive car-bombs in the past month.

Westerners have been shot at coming out of restaurants.

Dangerous times

In the rather gloomy bar at the Sheraton, the Baghdad hotel where most foreigners stay protected behind barbed wire and blast barriers, the group of journalists I was drinking with concluded it was just too risky to go out that night to eat.

The Americans do nothing for the people of Najaf
Mourner at funeral of Ayatollah Hakim
The security situation seems worse now than it was when I was here in July.

That in turn seemed worse than late April, after the Americans first arrived.

Before the war, Iraq was a society with order but no freedom.

Now it has freedom but no order.

You often hear about the British or American soldiers who die in the daily guerrilla or "terrorist" attacks, but for ordinary civilians here, Baghdad also has the highest murder rate in the world.

On a typical day, the city's mortuary may get 40 bodies with gunshot wounds.

Iraqis are often prone to reeling off a long list of things which were better, or at least available, when Saddam was in charge: power, petrol and security usually top the list.

That does not mean they would want Saddam back.

He always ruled through fear and with the support of only a tiny minority.

Iraqis targeted

Some more statistics may shed light on the nature of the conflict now.

Some 65 American and 11 British soldiers have been killed in attacks since President Bush declared major hostilities over on 1 May.

During this period at least 50 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in these attacks.

Bizarrely, but not illogically, some take comfort from this final figure.

It means the coalition is not struggling alone against some unified Iraqi resistance.

It is an Iraqi struggle too.

Indeed, some 60,000 Iraqis now bear arms under coalition authority.

This includes 37,000 police offices in the Interior Ministry, run now by its own Iraqi minister.

Rising anger

But this also highlights a new danger for the Americans.

Increasingly, instead of just mopping up Baathist remnants, they will find themselves holding the ring between different Iraqi factions, with very different ideas about the future of the country.

Mourners at funeral of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim
Many Iraqis blame the US for continuing instability
It seems that Saddam loyalists - with help from al-Qaeda-inspired foreign fighters - very successfully stoked these tensions when they killed more than 120 people in the assassination of the Ayatollah Hakim in Najaf.

The funeral was an overwhelming occasion - hundreds of thousands packing the streets, cries of grief mingling with shouts of revenge.

Every single mourner I spoke to in the funeral cortege was anti-American, blaming them for allowing the bombing to take place.

That was a somewhat unfair charge since the Americans have always stayed out of the centre of Najaf in deference to Shia sensitivities about their holy places.

The demand of the mourners was for the Shia militias to be given more weapons and more powers and to take over security from the Americans.

"The Americans do nothing for the people of Najaf", one man told me, screaming and waving his arms about as the crowd closed around him.

"They didn't arrest the bombers. Maybe they even knew about the bomb before it happened."

There are two paths that Iraq can take: one is towards sectarian conflict, the Lebanon scenario.

The other is towards a stable democracy which would be a beacon to people's across the Middle East - "self-government that is irreversible and, once achieved, will be an example to all in the Muslim world who desire freedom," as the US deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, puts it.

The BBC's Michael Buchanan in Washington
"America's need for outside help couldn't be more apparent"

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