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Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 16:05 UK

Rageh Omaar on five years in Iraq

THIS WEEK
Rageh Omaar
al-Qaeda has been given booster rockets over the last five years
Rageh Omaar
We asked former BBC war correspondent Rageh Omaar for his take on Iraq, five years on [Originally broadcast March 20th, 2008.]

In 2003, I was in Baghdad just as the war began and I witnessed for myself the effects of the bombardments of "Shock And Awe".

Only three weeks after the bombs began falling, the American troops pounded their way into the heart of the Iraqi capital and to Firdus Square for the dramatic, breathtaking moment when the statue of Saddam was toppled.

It seemed to end the liberation of Iraq and the end of the regime.

In fact, what we were witnessing was the beginning of the real war for Iraq.

Checkpoints, barricades and concrete blast barriers

I've just come back from a trip to Baghdad to see how the last five years has affected my friends and colleagues that I knew from before the war.

What I found was a city and a society broken and devastated by the experience of the last five years.

Five years ago, Baghdad was easy to move around in - to find people and to ask them how their life was.

Today, it's almost impossible. It's a city of checkpoints, barricades and concrete blast barriers.

No-one can find an answer

Five years on, Iraq is a contradiction. It has democracy; it has had elections; it has freedoms which were only a dream under Saddam Hussein.

But the one thing that makes all those impossible to experience for ordinary Iraqis is security.

It is a society plagued by violence and no-one can find an answer to how to end it.

al-Qaeda has been given booster rockets

The vast majority of people in the Arab and Islamic worlds see the War on Terror completely differently from how President Bush sees it. In fact, it couldn't be more different.

For them, al-Qaeda has been given booster rockets over the last five years.

They have grown and penetrated their message in parts of the Arab and Islamic worlds which even Osama bin Laden could not possibly have imagined in his wildest dreams.

I think that five years ago, the real case for invading and occupying Iraq for most ordinary people was about getting rid of a hated dictatorship and installing liberal values like democracy. But look at the result five years on.

And the people who made these arguments from the comfort of their armchairs back home have probably never set foot in countries like Iraq.

For them, it was just a theory.

And they're still making those arguments, and they're still advancing the case of intervening militarily elsewhere around the world.

I think they shouldn't be allowed to succeed.

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