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thedrifter
05-06-09, 09:18 AM
Tired of war, but wary of what comes next
Some in Baghdad see increase in attacks as an anomaly, but others are more concerned
By Heath Druzin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Wednesday, May 6, 2009

BAGHDAD — In the creeping heat of the Iraqi spring, war-weary residents of the capital are looking uncertainly to the future amid a spate of bombings, including at least two car bomb explosions Monday that appeared to target the minister of oil in Baghdad’s Rusafa district.

"Right now it’s a dangerous time," said Salah Nadir, manager of a medical clinic on the outskirts of the volatile Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

After a period of relative calm, a series of bombs has killed scores of people in Baghdad and in neighboring Diyala province, raising fears of a return to the ethnic bloodshed of recent years and leaving some people doubting the capability of Iraqi security forces.

The blasts have killed mostly civilians, and two of the biggest blasts were in the heart of Sadr City, an area off-limits to U.S. troops as part of a cease-fire agreement between followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi government. But April was also the deadliest month for U.S. troops this year, with 19 deaths reported, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks war casualties.

Three Iraqis were killed and eight injured in Monday’s attack, in which at least two car bombs detonated near the Ministry of Oil building, according to U.S. military officials.

‘An inside job’

U.S. military officials downplay the potential for renewed sectarian violence, but many Iraqis still distrust their security forces, with the worst marks given to local police, and recent bombings have deepened that dissatisfaction. Ineffectiveness and infiltration by insurgents are the two most common complaints, and worries are aggravated by an impending U.S. pullback from Iraqi cities. Some U.S. military officials are especially concerned about the unstable city of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Despite the recent violence, there has been nothing like the sectarian bloodbath that left thousands dead during 2006 and 2007, but a return to such fighting is still a specter many residents of Baghdad deeply fear.

"It’s an inside job — there are thugs in the security forces," Hussein Ali, a 43-year-old welder, said of the recent bombings.

Muhammed Saad, who mans a sandal stand in northeast Baghdad, fears insurgent attacks will bring a return to sectarian bloodshed.

"They are trying to bring [Iraq] back to what it was like before," he said.

Samawao Haidar Abbas, chairman of the Basateen Neighborhood Advisory Council, echoed the views of several Iraqis interviewed for this article when he pointed to the surge in violence as evidence of ineffective Iraqi security forces.

"These things make us not trust the future," he said. "The car bombs — people question how they slip in and get into the cities."

Some Iraqis, though, see the recent violence as an anomaly.

Akil Ibrahim, a shop owner in the Adhamiyah neighborhood, said he used to close his store at 4 p.m. for fear of attacks, but now he stays open after dark with no worries.

"Now our families can go outside, be on the streets, go to restaurants," he said.

Violent crime persists

American military commanders and troops say they are confident the spike in attacks will not spiral out of control. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, too, has said there is no indication Iraq is slipping back into sectarian violence.

Lt. Col. Tim Karcher, of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, who oversees operations on the outskirts of Sadr City, said the sad reality is that an ultraviolent recent history has left Iraqis steeled for bloodshed.

"Unfortunately, the people of Iraq can accept a couple (of bombings)," he said. "It’s when it’s a couple every day."

While American forces point to much-reduced violence, mostly in the number of insurgent bombings and shootings, rampant violent crime still plagues the city between headline-grabbing attacks. Kidnappings for ransom, often a lucrative racket for insurgent groups, are still commonplace, as are bloody street crimes such as a recent string of jewelry heists that left seven Iraqis dead.

The weariness can be seen in the eyes of Naeema Ahmed, whose 4-year-old grandson was recently snatched from his front yard as the boy watered the garden. The kidnappers want $50,000, an impossible sum for most Iraqis. Ahmed has already had one son kidnapped and killed.

"I can’t sleep, thinking about this child," she said, tears welling in her eyes.

Karcher, on his third deployment to Iraq, said he is optimistic about Iraq’s future but understands the despair some Iraqis feel.

"It’s really hard to believe it’s all going to work out when you’ve seen the level of violence these folks have seen," he said.

Ellie