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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 05:04 GMT 06:04 UK
Life in Iraq: About our panel
Saddam's statue toppled
As US tanks rolled into Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled
On Friday 7 April the BBC devoted a special day of coverage to finding out more about life inside Iraq.

Nearly three years after Saddam Hussein's government lost control of Baghdad, life for many Iraqis is still unstable.

The BBC News website asked a panel of six Iraqis from around the country to answer questions sent in by readers throughout the day.

Click on the links below to read more about the panellists.

SAMIR ALI, 31, DOCTOR, BAGHDAD

Samir Ali
Samir Ali says life under Saddam's regime was at least safe

Samir left his home town of Kirkuk in northern Iraq 13 years ago to study medicine in Baghdad. A kidney surgeon in one of Baghdad's busiest hospitals, security is his biggest concern.

He says that many doctors are leaving Iraq because life is so dangerous.

"Iraq has been handed to people who cannot govern. The US forces have made thousands of mistakes and we are the ones who pay. They are very unpopular."

Samir used to be able to make the long journey north to visit his family once a week. As violence has escalated, he can only visit them once a month at best. "I miss them so much," he adds.

Samir notes that Iraq's new constitution places great emphasis on freedom. But, for him, freedom of expression means little without the safety that guarantees life. Although he is a Sunni, he prefers to be identified as a Muslim.

He is cynical about the new breed of politicians vying for power in Iraq.

"At least under Saddam Hussein we had a good life in some respects. Despite its defects there was a police force, a real army," he says.

"These days, you only have yourself for protection."

LAYLA AL-KHAFAJI, 40s, POLITICAL WORKER, BAGHDAD

Layla al-Khafaji returned to Baghdad last year after living in exile in Canada for 14 years.

After finishing college in the 1980s, she was targeted to join the Ba'ath party. As a Shia, her refusal led to her being imprisoned for 10 years before she fled the country.

After living in a free country for so long I miss the simple pleasures of freedom
Layla al-Khafaji
She now works for the United Iraqi Alliance, the electoral coalition that got the most votes in the 2005 election.

Layla believes the key to building democracy in Iraq is making the political process transparent to the public.

"There are people from Saddam's government who are trying to reinvent themselves to get back into government - but nobody trusts these people."

Outside work, socialising is difficult for someone with her profile and she spends most of her time with her family at home.

"Because I have been on the TV a few times, I cannot go out. Even if I want to buy a pair of shoes, I have to send someone out to get them for me."

"After living in a free country for so long I miss the simple pleasures of freedom," she says. "Like being able to walk, or to breathe fresh air."

SA'AD AL-IZZI, 32, JOURNALIST, BAGHDAD

Sa'ad Al-Izzi
Sa'ad Al-Izzi says violence has made life worse for many
After the US-led invasion, Sa'ad Al-Izzi became a journalist because he wanted to tell the world the real story about Iraq.

"Unlike foreign correspondents I can walk around freely and so I report the tales of friends, relatives and ordinary people in the street," he says.

A secular Sunni, Sa'ad grew up in a military neighbourhood of Baghdad. He says that life for everybody revolved around war.

When the Iran-Iraq war finally ended in 1988, "we thought it was going to be heaven." But his family's optimism vanished with the invasion of Kuwait three years later and the ensuing hardship of international embargoes and sanctions.

Hopes ran high once again after Saddam Hussein fell from power, he adds. But Sa'ad believes that violence and lawlessness during the occupation have made life far worse for many.

He lives with his mother and sister and worries constantly about their safety. His sister has witnessed gun fights in the streets and narrowly escaped a car bomb explosion.

Curfew confines him to his home in the evenings. "After sunset, I go a little crazy as I can't go out. Too many mistakes have been made here. Life is very difficult."

ZEYNAB, TEACHER, BAGHDAD

Zeynab (far right) with colleagues at the primary school where she teaches
Primary school teacher Zeynab spends all her spare time at home because that is where she feels safest.

"The moment I step out of my home to go to work I am overcome by fear. I can never be sure if I will return home again.

"Maybe it will be a car bomb or a suicide bomber or a roadside bomb," she says.

She fears for her children's safety, too. "Nowhere is safe now. We hear about explosions in mosques, churches and schools."

She moved her son from his secondary school because the school guard and one of the students was killed.

Despite the dangers Zeynab chooses to stay at her school and teach young children because she wants to play her role in rebuilding Iraq.

But, she says, only when foreign troops leave Iraq, will Iraqis like her be able to rebuild the country for themselves.

MATEEN DOOSKI, UNEMPLOYED, DOHUK, NORTHERN IRAQ

Mateen Dooski, a 50 year old Kurd, is currently unemployed after completing the construction of a commercial building which he oversaw.

I could work for the government but the wages are low and there is so much corruption.
Mateen Dooski
"It was a big headache," he says. "It's hard to get materials and the labour market has boomed so there is a shortage of workers and they demand high wages."

Despite no job, Mateen manages to support his wife, who is a teacher, and five sons, aged from 10 to 22 with a pension from his teaching days, and properties that he lets out.

But finding a good job which is well paid is difficult.

"I was offered a post with the UN high commissioner for refugees but I could not travel to Irbil which is two hours away. I could work for the government but the wages are low and there is so much corruption."

He says the boredom is the worst thing about not working.

Mateen tries to fill his time by spending time with family, watching the news and researching new projects or perhaps a new job.

Although security is relatively good in Dohuk, a popular Iraqi holiday destination, Mateen says that the level of services is worsening and fuel shortages mean everyday life is severely affected.

ESSAM HAMOUDI, 26, ARMY TRANSLATOR, SAMAWA

Essam Hamoudi
Essam Hamoudi believes that coalition forces bring security to Iraq
Essam Hamoudi was delighted when US forces reached the southern town of Samawa in 2003. "I regard their arrival as a liberation and not an invasion," he says.

"We were in a state of degradation, ruled by a state which insulted us and treated us with no dignity or respect."

From the first his encounters with the occupying forces were positive. The US troops arrived at a time when there was no water in Samawa. Essam says they were invaluable in helping to provide such basic resources.

According to Essam, Samawa has already seen the benefits of the foreign investment in Iraq in the form of a brand new barracks for the army. He works as a translator to the foreign army personnel who train officers in the Iraqi army.

A devout Shia Muslim, he lives with his parents and four brothers and is engaged to be married.

His biggest hope for the future is prosperity and security for Iraq - he is optimistic that his wish will be granted in his lifetime.





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