The BBC devoted a special day of coverage to finding out more about life inside Iraq.
As US tanks rolled into Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled
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 from around the world.
Read on to see what they had to say about everyday life and security in Iraq.
Question from from a reader of the BBC PERSIAN website in Iran 1945 Iraq time (1545 GMT)
Q: Some people in Iran think that the problems of their country could only be solved by a US military action. Given the fact that you have already experienced a similar scenario, what is your assessment?
Samir: I want my message to reach the Americans themselves. If their goal was to create the new Middle East and the foundation of a democratic example of a country that chooses its leaders, then I will tell them that the result of their military action is totally the opposite.
The majority of people in the Middle East are now holding their leaders close to them even if they are unfair, because they fear facing the same fate as Iraq.
The military action did not work.
Question from Ridha, Colombo,Sri Lanka 1920 Iraq time (1520 GMT)
Q: Iraq was under dictatorship for a long time and Some feel that this is the only form of rule that would bring some sort of peace to this country. Would it be that we will have to see another dictatorship before we see peace in Iraq?
Sa'ad: Unfortunately this is what we have been seeing. We have replaced a military dictatorship with a religious one, for the time being.
Now we have Islamic parties, both Sunni and Shia and they are imposing their ideology on the people. No-one is capable of standing up to them. Lots of the killing we are seeing, and the violence, is because of this kind of ideology.
If you stand up, you will be eliminated. So what's new? It's the same thing as under Saddam, but now we are dealing with several Saddams, not just one.
Question from a reader of the BBC PERSIAN website in Iran, 1910 Iraq time (1510 GMT)
Q: Some people in Iran think that the problems of their country could only be solved by a US military action. Given the fact that you have already experienced a similar scenario, what is your assessment?
Zeynab: This is a great failure. It can't be an experience to follow.
What is happening now in Iraq should be the major lesson for US in order not to repeat this experience, the American intervention in Iran won't influence positively in Iraq as the pro Iranian militias will remain here, and will continue receiving support from Iran beside the possibility of similar violence in Iran.
Question from a reader of the BBC PERSIAN website in Iran, 1900 Iraq time (1500 GMT)
Q: It seems that Iraq's currency has become stronger since the down fall of Saddam's regime. I have heard that the average salary of a teacher has risen from $3 to $100. Does this mean people are better off?
Sa'ad: No-one can deny that salaries have improved considerably. Sometimes that salary under Saddam would have been even lower: $1, not $3! But with the deteriorating services, people are spending more and more than during Saddam┐s time.
COST OF BASIC GOODS US$
1kg lamb - $6
1kg bread - $0.50
20 litres petrol - $3.50 (subsidised) or $6.80 - $8.20 (black market)
All figures March 2006
For example, then you could fill your car tank with fuel for 1,000 dinars. Now, because of shortages in fuel products and the long, long queues at gas stations, you go to the black market and buy it for 50,000 dinars, if not more.
The same thing applies to electricity, cooking gas, heating and so on, and the total is enormous. So the increased salaries often don't cover it.
Question from a reader of the BBC PERSIAN website in Iran, 1850 Iraq time (1450 GMT)
Q: Given the history of war between Iran and Iraq, what kind of role do you think Iran has in the security situation in Iraq? Positive or negative?
Sa'ad: Well, I think the official statements from Iranian officials have been positive but at the same time you can hear some Iraqi officials and coalition officials blaming the Iranian authorities or security services of providing weapons and training and financing for some of the armed groups in Iraq.
Lots of people blame Iran for many things taking place in Iraq, because they think if there was a success story for the coalition in Iraq, this would encourage other nations to look for a similar liberation in their countries from dictatorships - whether they are military or religious.
So some analysts accuse Iran and even Syria of preventing a stable, secure Iraq from happening.
Question from Kim Donnelly, Capetown, South Africa, 1835 Iraq time (1435 GMT)
Q: Do you think that the motivation for the US invasion of Iraq was truly to release you as human beings from an authoritarian regime or do you think that the US invasion was a self-serving act to ensure future US economic control within Iraq?
Layla: It was not to free us. I'm a victim of the regime, and Iraqi people understand that the US invasion of Iraq [in 1991] gave them an opportunity to be free from the regime. But America didn't support the uprisings in the south and north in 1991. Hundreds of thousands died. If they really wanted to free the Iraqi people, they should have freed them at that time but they didn't.
This time it just so happened that their interests coincided with freeing the Iraqi people from the regime. I'm very happy that we got rid of Saddam, but I think all the western countries , the UK, US, and others, have an interest in Iraq.
It's an oil country, in addition to its strategic position in the Middle East.
Question from Marije, Nottingham, UK, 1830 Iraq time (1430 GMT)
Q: For Layla. Do you have good hopes for the future regarding the position of the female in family and society, now that the regime has changed?
Layla: Definitely. If we go back to the time when the regime was in power, there was no room for women except for women who were loyal to the regime, and even then they were tools of the regime, to transfer the opinions that the regime wanted.
Now there will be a role for women, they will have their rights, a right to play a big role in politics, and social life, and defining the family's rights, kids' rights. And the political parties and NGOs are encouraging women to take their part in the political process.
Question from Laurence, Oxford, UK, 1800 Iraq time (1400 GMT)
Q: Is it safer for Iraqis to live in villages and away from the main towns and cities?
Zeynab: Yes, I have relatives in other provinces who do not hear aircrafts or explosions.
Days after the end of the war, Zeynab's family pose by a tank
When they came to visit us they were shocked at the state of things. The provinces are calm, however. My sister lives in a village near Baghdad where there is a concentration of American and Iraqi security forces.
The allied forces raided their home one night and forced them out. Meanwhile Iraqi forces threatened them too. Some places are not really calm but in general the provinces are more safe and calm than Baghdad and big cities.
The picture on the right is of my family just days after the end of the war. This tank was abandoned near our home. Many war devices were left all over Baghdad at that time.
BAGHDAD MOSQUE EXPLOSION
More than 40 people have been killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack on the Shia Buratha mosque in Baghdad. The BBC News website asked the panellists for their response.
Layla: I just came from nearby [where the bombing happened]. It's a very famous mosque - there is a cemetery in there. Iraqis who don't have the money to go to Najaf bury their dead there.
I just called my friend who is the sister of the sheikh - Sheikh Jalal [Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, the imam of the Buratha Mosque]. She's OK but she's in a panic. She said they are moving injured people from the mosque now. It's very sad and very bad, that they've been trying to attack this mosque.
It played a very important role in the election campaign. The Sheikh was a great activist. He is one of the exiled peoples from Saddam's regime. He came back straight away after the fall of the regime. His father was the Imam of this mosque 30 years ago.
The Friday prayer at that mosque is one of the biggest ones in Baghdad. I've been there on Fridays, but one day I had to come back because there was no way to make my way to the prayer room.
Essam: I am so shocked, I cannot believe it. I used to go to this mosque very regularly when I lived in Baghdad three years ago. It is such a holy place and it has a big area. You could hear the leaves shake in the trees when so many hundreds of Shia Muslims bowed down to pray.
It is over 1,000 years old and I used to go there because there is a holy well with holy water on the site - where Imam Ali visited centuries ago.
Zeynab: This is becoming an everyday story in our lives. Bombing a mosque, school or hospital is is something you always hear about. I didn't hear the explosion as the mosque is not that near to me. I do expect Shia to retaliate. There are security forces who are supposed to protect the mosque. Might they be involved? I can't be biased either way. I am Shia and my husband is Sunni.
Question from Paul, London, UK, 1645 Iraq time (1245 GMT)
Q: Recently the UK media gave lots of coverage, over a period of several days, to claims that Iraq is in a state of "civil war". Why do you think that none of the Iraqi interviewees has mentioned the civil war at all? Which faction do you think is winning the civil war? What do you think will be the long-term outcome?
Samir: Politics hides the truth. There is fire beneath ash. There is a civil war - how do you describe the exchange of mortars between regions with high density of Sunni and Shia? Everyone admits that there are Iraqi and foreign militias.
But in a civil war there is no winner Ask Rwanda ask Lebanon or any other country which had a civil war, all end up losing. In my opinion what we have now was expected, and in order to go to a safe place we have to go through this road, but we didn't imagine it would be that bad.
I hope the United States might change its strategy here. I hope it might work.
Question from Donald Currie, Edinburgh, UK, 1630 Iraq time (1230 GMT)
Q: What can you tell me about how Sunnis and Shias in Iraq relate to each other?
Samir: It's a religious difference. The schism is related to historical approaches in Islam, to who has the right to interpret the Koran. It's a historical issue started more that thousand years ago.
Relations between Shia and Sunni were very good before the occupation. There are many mixed marriages. Nobody will be willing to give his daughter to man who he dislikes.
But in the last few months there has been a tense environment between the two parties. It's its all about differences between the political rivals.
I think if politics in Iraq wasn't sectarian, things would have been much better. Those parties are based on sectarian principles each wants his sect to be the dominant one. That is why there is conflict.
Despite this, there is still a healthy relationship between Shia and Sunni - there are mixed marriages.
Question from Matt Sirotkin, Chicago, USA, 1540 Iraq time (1140 GMT)
Q: In your opinion, from where do the intense violence and infighting come?
Zeynab: I think the occupation, the Iraqi army and the police are all responsible for the current situation. The Iraqi security forces are now sectarian and they coordinate with the occupation to carry out this terror.
The army during Saddam's time was multi-ethnic (Shia, Kurd and Sunni) their mission was to protect Iraq and Iraqis but now nobody is defending the Iraqi people.
Question from Daphne Constantine, East Grinstead, UK, 1520 Iraq time (1120 GMT)
Q: Not so long ago Iraq did not exist as a country but was "invented" by the West. Do you feel that dividing Iraq into two or three separate countries to cater for the disparate groups within it would make a better long-term solution?
Sa'ad: Yes, Iraq was created in the 1920s. But if you look at the 1950s and 1960s, you can see a real success story. We were a modern state which was a model in the region, whose foundation was democracy and politics, education and people working hard. It was a country which could not be considered part of the third world. So I think we could go back to that modern state.
None of the regions - Shia, Kurdish, and so on - on their own will be strong enough to be a good state like Iraq in the 1950s and 60s.
It would be impractical to cut Iraq into three parts. If we divide Sunni from Shia, what will people like me do? My mother's side is Shia, my father's side is Sunni. You have tribes where one part is Shia and one part is Sunni. All of these divisions only came into existence because of political parties who offered themselves as strictly Shia and strictly Sunni, so it's impractical.
Essam: [Laughing] No way! How can you divide the one land. We have here in Samawa Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. Iraq can never be divided. We are just like a fruit cocktail.
IRAQ: POTTED HISTORY
1920: Iraq placed under British mandate after Ottoman empire falls; national boundaries redrawn
1932: Iraqi independence
1958: Monarchy overthrown; Baathists take power in 1968
1980-88: Iran-Iraq war
1990-91: Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; UN sanctions imposed; first Gulf War
1998-2001: Periodic US/UK air strikes
2003: US-led coalition topples Saddam Hussein
When the Shia holy shrines in Najaf were destroyed we all went out in demonstrations - from south to north - holding hands together and speaking with one voice.
There is an attempt from some provocative media outlets to show Iraq as if it is a destroyed country about to vanish. This is not true. I was in the market yesterday and everything is in great order. The army and police were everywhere.
I haven't seen such order in my life even in the era of Saddam Hussein which was dominated by the secret service presence in the streets.
We are fine and Iraq is beautiful. See it from the real perspective. My brother is a university student in Baghdad and he is tells me that his life is good there. But these media channels exaggerate the security situation. They should talk about the positive in Iraq.
Question from Marije, Nottingham, UK, 1500 Iraq time (1100 GMT)
Q: What is the general view on martyrs in Iraq? Do many people still promote this kind of extremism, either overtly or covertly? Is this reducing at all?
Essam: Iraq is an Islamic country and Islam prohibits the unjustified killing of human souls.
Those suicide bomber are not Iraqis. Iraqi people do not like them at all. Those fighters of al-Zarqawi are outsiders who came into Iraq and recruited people to operate in highly populated areas - the last time they bombarded a group of workers.
The real martyrs from the Iraqi viewpoint are those innocent victims of terrorism. Nobody encouraged those suicide attacks, neither now nor in the era of the unjust and harmful regime of Saddam.
Question from James Hayes, London, UK, 1450 Iraq time (1050 GMT)
Q: What in your opinion has been the single biggest mistake made by the US-led coalition in its invasion and occupation of Iraq?
Sa'ad:I think the biggest mistake was that they adopted similar policies to those used after the fall of Nazi Germany. They thought that whoever was a Baathist was like a Nazi - but that is not true, because Iraqis were forced to join the Baathists, not like in Germany when members actually believed in the party's principles.
There was a witch-hunt. Lots of efficient, qualified people were marginalised, put aside and sent home, not to have any role in building the new Iraq. Of course, they did not lay down and die in their houses, they had to do something, and it became a struggle for survival.
In order to stay alive and survive you had to fight and this was the start of the insurgency. This applies particularly to the Iraqi army which was disbanded.
Question from Abbos Azad, Berkshire, UK, 1440 Iraq time (1040 GMT)
Q: Since the breakdown of Iraq do you think that there is now a vast increase in people who question there faith? Have suicide levels risen?
Sa'ad: Well, sectarian feelings are now at a peak, because when you have a certain sect on one side becoming strong, the other sect feels threatened, so it leads them to gather and face down the other side.
If you are a sociologist, you will find that whenever there are troubles or wars, people tend to go towards religion and God for hope, for some kind of moral boost.
I don't think suicide has risen, mostly because suicide in Islam is seen as a sin, like any other religion, and the punishment is that you go to hell. Suicide bombers don't see themselves as committing suicide but becoming martyrs.
Question from Matt Sirotkin, Chicago, USA, 1410 Iraq time (1010 GMT)
Q: What misconceptions do you feel Westerners have about Iraq and the Middle East?
Zeynab: Westerners can't see us as we really are. We have our own civilisation and culture. We have modern life. The media doesn't represent that picture so our culture is not clear for the West.
Satellite channels should introduce more details of our life in different areas and not only politics. That might help for better understanding. Our country had good security during Saddam and we were able to walk down the streets at midnight. Financially it wasn't about luxury but at least it was sufficient for a moderate life.
It was stable somehow.
Question from Mandy Williams Indiana, USA, 1400 Iraq time (1000 GMT)
Q: Women were relatively well-off under Saddam. Do you worry that the "new Iraq" will be very conservative, and perhaps restrict women's rights? How are the children coping with the all the violence going on around them? Do you think that their generation will look back on this and feel bitter towards the US and their allies?
Zeynab: Only women close to Saddam regime had their full rights but the normal women didn't have that. I don't think the situation would be worse, we didn't have enough rights, and nobody will reduce the few that we have.
Zeynab says women are determined to hold on to their rights
Our children are scared, they live in a civil war. The bombing and shooting should have been ended by the ousting of the ex-regime but there is still violence everywhere.
There will definitely be bitterness. My son is now 13 years old. When he reaches his twenties he will say that when the US entered our country and the regime was ousted, robbery and assaults spread everywhere, central authorities were dissolved and chaos was there.
He will definitely remember that.
Mateen: For my children, the situation here in Kurdistan is very calm, we are not being affected directly by the violence. It's like life in the US, UK, any European country, except the level of services is not as good as there or even comparable.
But from a security point of view, we don't have those kind of problems. We are in a safe part of the country, everyone is free, there are no thieves, you can leave your door open, travel at any time, go for picnics, go shopping late at night - so our children are not witnessing those kinds of problems.
EDUCATION IN IRAQ
By 2004, 315 schools were partially or fully restored
In 2005, 50,000 primary school teachers underwent training
In 2005, 7.9m boys and girls went to school
People have lost interest in the [security] situation [elsewhere] - they don't want to watch those bad things on the TV. Of course we are very sorry about what is happening. Many of my wife's relatives are living in those parts of the country, and their situation is very difficult. They are living in a kind of prison and their children are traumatised.
But remember we ourselves have gone through this kind of situation - not for a few years but for 40 or 50 years from the time I was born. We have been displaced, we have been immigrants, we have seen bombings. So my children were already adapted to that.
Question from DM, London, UK, 1320 Iraq time (0920 GMT)
Q:For a while I have been wondering about the infrastructure in the larger cities in Iraq. What kind of condition was the infrastructure in before the second war? Were there regular power cuts and brown-outs? How sophisticated was the sewerage and water supply? What are they like now and how are they improving?
Mateen: During the early 90s our city of Dohuk was without electricity for more than two years. We didn't have any kind of electricity. Then people adapted themselves and started to set up big generators and we were getting limited quantities of electricity from Turkey - but only for a few hours.
Mateen says his home city of Dohuk has no sewage system
The situation currently is very good, but it's not sustainable because unless you have electricity or a power generation plant, you don't feel safe. Still we are face blackouts but those private generators are still there.
The water situation is not bad. There is no shortage. People are getting enough tap water. In the past there was a big problem of water supply because of the [city's] expansion.
Nothing has changed regarding sewage. In our city we don't have a sewage system, the waste water is running all over the street. That's a big problem.
Question from Karen, Texas, USA, 1220 Iraq time (0820 GMT)
Q: Zeynab, your courage is to be commended. As a fellow primary school educator, my students and I are interested in how your classroom and school has changed over the past few years. How do your students view their country's current situation and what are their feelings about the future? What problems do you and your students face every day?
There was a reconstruction plan but this was applied only to the outer face of the buildings. Inside the building it remains the same, if not worse. We have only one source of light inside classrooms and this is insufficient.
A Baghdad schoolboy in his classroom after a mortar attack
Before the war we used to have cleaning service employees but now the students have to leave their classes and do the cleaning themselves.
Some students are decided. They will help to build the country in the future but others are very frustrated and don't care about studies anymore because they see no horizon.
The major problem which we face every single day is the security issue, I myself moved my son from Al Mansour (Baghdad) school which is the best school in the area to another less prestigious school, I took this decision when the school guard was killed and also in order to avoid car bombs.
I'm grateful to you and every one who is concerned about my country and as a colleague I wish you all the best, Thanks a lot.
Question from Christina Rush, Memphis, USA, 1210 Iraq time (0810 GMT)
Q: Do you think Iraq would be safer if the U.S. troops left right now? Why or why not?
Samir: No, I don't think it would be safer. There would be a civil war. But they [the US troops] are dealing with the situation in the wrong way. They should leave the cities and the roads, get away from our homes.
They are trying to enter our homes and search our homes. We don't know why - we don't believe their excuses for it. But we need them to support our country. Iraq needs the Americans to get out of this bad situation.
I think most Iraqis hate them, dislike them - but they're not afraid of them, I don't think.
Zeynab: No, I don't think so. Not now. If they go now Iraq wouldn't be safer. The Iraqi army and the police can't maintain security in this stage, they won't be able to do the job.
Mateen: No, I think it would be a fatal mistake for allied forces to withdraw from Iraq immediately without preparation and making sure the country is strong enough to cope with security problems. I assure you, the country would separate immediately into several entities - it would be worse than Somalia. I don't think the US and UK would make that mistake.
If they left, everyone would be in trouble, the country would separate. The current government is not strong enough at the moment to control the security situation and face the security threat. Iraq has a very difficult geopolitical position.
Question from Andrew Bayly, Melbourne, Australia, 1150 Iraq time (0750 GMT)
Q: I am interested in your students' reactions to daily life. Are the children happy? What do they worry about? Have things improved or worsened for the children since this war began? And thank you Zeynab for doing your job. My own young children love their teachers, but they have never had to live through a war.
Zeynab: My children live in great fear. There are bombs and aircraft everywhere so they can't even follow their lessons in class for the high volume of aircraft sound. They can't be happy in such circumstances.
As all children when they have opportunity they play although sometimes explosions stop them from playing.
They are really concerned about security and also about social conditions. I'm speaking about money. The dissolved ministries didn't pay salaries for its ex-employees so families and of course kids were badly affected.
Whether they grow up to be fulfilled will depend on each student. There are some who are ambitious and think they might be able to rebuild the future of Iraq, while others don't.
However, I think that if the sectarian faces of the political leaders remain here Iraq won't change. We have had too many false promises from politicians.
Question from Omar, Rome, Italy, 1140 Iraq time (0740GMT)
Q: To Sa'ad al-Izzi: Other Arab states have been absent from the political arena in Iraq? To what extent is the Iraqi government isolationist. Can Iraq engage actively in the Arab region?
Sa'ad: Most of the Arab people in surrounding countries were cheering for Saddam. This may have created a backlash from Iraqis. It seems to me that the Arabs looking at the government which came after Saddam saw them as a bunch of traitors - and they saw Saddam as a patriotic pro-Arab leader.
Saddam is the only one who hit Israel with missiles and this made him a real hero in the Arab world . So there was a lot of disappointment in the Arab world when he was deposed. In some senses there is a rift between some Iraqi people and the people in the rest of the Arab world.
Question from Laura, Orange, USA, 1135, Iraq time (0735 GMT)
Q: To Samir Ali: Would you prefer security under Saddam's rule to the present unpredictability of today's situation?
Samir: That's a great question and difficult to answer. Security is a very important issue in our lives, but Saddam's time was a very dark era. I think we need to pass through this bad time in order to reach our goal of a good, stable, progressive country.
Question from Brad, Bath, Maine, USA, 1120 Iraq time (0720GMT)
Q: I am a marine who has served in Iraq. When I was there, I wasn't able to leave our base and see what Iraq is like. Does any one of the commentators envision a day when veterans such as I will be able to visit Iraq as a tourist and be able to explore the country and culture that we fought for?
Essam: Yes, of course. But you should come to the south of Iraq. Don't go to the North as Baghdad is dangerous and Fallujah is unsafe as well.
Essam works at the police training academy in the town of Samawa
But in the south we have water and many ancient and beautiful places that you can visit. It is not a problem.
I feel very safe in my town, where I work with the army. There is a police training academy here too. Just last year during our elections, two Japanese people came. We walked everywhere with them and people would come and say hello to them. They had total freedom of movement.
The north of Iraq is also beautiful. It's really nice country up north in Iraq, which I believe has been virtually independent since 1991.
Question from Abdul Muttar Haloob, 1115 Iraq time (0715GMT)
Q: To Dr. Samir Ali.. Are there enough doctors and nurses staying over night in the hospitals to take care of sick people and is there enough medicine to keep them alive?
Samir: No, there is a great shortage of medical supplies and medicine and also our senior [doctors] have left the country due to the bad security situation here. There's a good number of doctors and nurses, but we have lost our senior doctors.
Question from Alexander Ames, USA, 1105 Iraq time (0705 GMT)
Q: Are any of the universities back in operation? I read that most universities were looted and lacked books, desks and computers. Has this situation improved?
Essam: This is a good question because my answer will tell you about the wonderful people in our country.
Maybe some books were looted. But the people who were responsible for the libraries took many really valuable books to their homes and kept them in safety.
Afterwards, they returned them to the libraries of each university. This is why our country is so rich. It is full of good people.
I heard of one lady in Basra who without the agreement of the dean of Basra college, loaded up a truck and kept the valuable manuscripts herself. When the Coalition Provisional Authority started functioning, she brought back the book to the college.
Question from Sam Hawkins, Edinburgh, 1100 Iraq time (0700 GMT)
Q: Do you think the news coverage of Iraq by Western journalists, including the BBC, who are heavily reliant on military press releases and almost never venture outside the green zone, bears any resemblance to reality? Is the story we are given manipulated by the coalition forces?
Sa'ad: I doubt coverage is manipulated, especially the coverage that comes from Western, high-standard media establishments. Many journalists I know have been committed to the Iraqi story for more than three years.
It is obviously easier for Arab journalists, such as myself, to mingle in the streets and meet people. Arab journalists do not stand out in a crowd.
But just yesterday, I went to Najaf with a couple of reporters from the Washington Post. We went through a very "hot" area - it is known as the triangle of death. We heard about five people who had been killed on the road that day.
Many people are targeted in this country - doctors, masons, college professors too. It's just a dangerous place but everyone tries hard to work.