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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
'Losing our country' - Baghdad blogger
Baghdad blogger Salam Pax

Three years after US forces symbolically toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi capital, 'Baghdad blogger' Salam Pax says things look bleaker than ever for his country.

"One of the tragedies of this ongoing war is that no one knows how many Iraqi lives have been lost.

"And those of us who have survived so far now risk losing our country," he told BBC Newsnight.

Baghdad resident Mr Pax came to prominence documenting the Iraq war from an Iraqi perspective on his weblog.

In taking stock of the situation three years on from the symbolic felling of the statue, Mr Pax says he is "more negative about the future than ever".

Bad experiences

Even in the immediate aftermath of the war, he says, hope and excitement was tinged with fear.

Many Iraqis were having bad experiences with the occupying forces
Salam Pax
"A lot was going on and it was amazing how quickly things were changing. For the first time everyone had access to satellite dishes, almost a 150 new newspapers and magazines and about a 100 new political parties suddenly appeared out of nowhere."

"But at the same time many Iraqis were having bad experiences with the occupying forces."

After the capture of Saddam Hussein, he says, "Saddam's supporters had joined ranks with the Islamist insurgency", and it was no longer just the occupying forces civilians had to fear.

Iraqi identity

Kurdish schoolgirls in the northern Iraqi city of Halabja
Mr Pax says he would need a permit to visit the Kurdish city of Halabja
Mr Pax says the country has become so deeply divided that any sense of national identity has been eroded.

"I have a Sunni name from my father but my mother is a Shia and we are all Arabs.

"If I want to visit the Shia south I feel safer when using my mother's name. I am not very welcome in the Kurdish north because I'm Arab; in fact I need a permit just to go there.

"All these are labels and all I want to be is an Iraqi - but there doesn't seem to be such a thing any more."

Huge mistake

Stopping short of describing the rising number of Iraqi deaths at the hands of insurgents as a civil war, he says the coalition's stated aims of providing democracy and freedom stand on the brink of complete failure.

Mothers are too afraid to send their kids to school
Salam Pax
"With the prospect of internal conflict looming ever larger it looks like this has been one huge mistake.

"What kind of democracy can we have when our politicians are still unable to agree on a government four months after the elections?

"And as far as freedom is concerned, when mothers are too afraid to send their kids to school, all these big ideas fly out of the window."

Sectarian tensions

Quality of life in Iraq has, he says, fallen sharply in the last three years, to the extent that many have to improvise to get around a lack of basic facilities.

Baghdad electrician
Baghdad's electricity supply remains unreliable
"Fuel shortages have become the norm and we all have given up on depending on the government's electricity grid. We buy electricity from the guy who has a big generator at the end of the street."

Salam Pax also says sectarian tensions have eroded personal freedoms, citing one example of a group of musicians unable to play due to threats of violence from Islamist parties.

There has also been a lack of progress on women's rights and rising youth unemployment, he says.

The picture Mr Pax paints of everyday life for Iraqis is of constant fear and dwindling hope.

"Today many people have felt forced to leave Iraq altogether because of the fear and insecurity that has become part of our daily lives."

But for all the problems and despite his growing international renown, Baghdad's blogger remains a resident of the Iraqi capital despite his fears for the future.

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