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THE WORLD

Iraqis' Rage at Boiling Point

A day after the third major bombing in a month left 100 dead, citizens' frustration with the U.S.-led occupation turns to anger.

August 31, 2003|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — More at ease with the gentle voice she uses to teach elementary school students, Khawla Ahmed struggled Saturday to find diplomatic language to express her outrage at what life has become in Iraq.

But as she rattled off the mounting horrors of thieves prowling in daylight, sabotage knocking out lights in schools and water in the kitchen, and now terrorist strikes killing scores of Iraqis, her anger escalated into a venomous tirade at the country's U.S.-led administration.

"America considers itself the superpower of the world, but here it is powerless to keep any semblance of order," she said. "The Americans fired our police and our army. Now there is no security and foreign terrorists are coming across our borders."

Foreign infiltrators have been blamed for Friday's attack in the central Iraqi city of Najaf, where a prominent cleric and about 100 other people died when a car bomb detonated amid a crowd after prayers. Iraqi police arrested several suspects in the bombing who occupation authorities allege have ties to the Al Qaeda network.

Recoiling from shock after shock in recent months, Iraqis place much of the blame for the chaos on the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in April and also helped scuttle the economy and their confidence about the future. Looting ravaged industrial sites, leaving most Iraqis still idle four months after the end of major combat. Hussein loyalists and others, including prisoners freed by the old regime on the eve of the invasion, have attacked oil pipelines, the electricity grid and water supply to sow insecurity and resentment of the occupying forces.

After the killing Friday of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim outside a Najaf mosque, simmering frustration with the U.S. overseers boiled over into anger.

"Iraqis were forced to disarm while the dangerous remnants of the previous regime were left free to do evil," said Adel Abdul Mehdi, an advisor to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. "They are able to sow destruction in the country and were able to kill Hakim due to this security loophole."

One member of the council, Shiite cleric Seyyid Mohammed Bahr Uloom, was reported to have suspended his participation in the transitional body until the administration agrees to hand over to Iraqis responsibility for their own protection.

More than 3,000 Shiites gathered at the gates of the coalition headquarters in Baghdad on Saturday to protest the persistent indignities they say they suffer and to mourn the loss of Hakim and the other victims.

At a news conference, members of the Governing Council joined ordinary Iraqis in contending that the Najaf bombing wouldn't have happened if occupying forces hadn't made a shambles of their country by first invading and then dismantling the Iraqi military and law enforcement. The coalition is now training a new Iraqi police force.

"We believe the question of security should be handled totally by Iraqis," said Ibrahim Jafari, president of the council, which is struggling to name a provisional Cabinet that eventually could take over day-to-day governing from the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Younadam Kanna, the 25-member council's only Christian, joined other politicians in blaming "remnants of the previous regime" for trying to thwart the peaceful hand-over of power. In the wake of three massive bombings this month that have claimed about 140 lives, the coalition appears eager to get an Iraqi leadership up and running so it can declare its work done here.

In both Sunni and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of Baghdad, Iraqis insisted Saturday that foreigners had staged the Najaf bombing. In the Adhamiya area, Sunnis accused "Zionists" of trying to instigate violence among Muslims and blamed the United States for plunging the country into a security vacuum.

"In Iraq now, yesterday was always better than today, and tomorrow it will be even worse," said Rose Ghazi Umran, a member of the national volleyball team. "For athletes, it's important to look to the future, but we see there only a worse situation than today."

As living conditions have been slow to improve due in part to persistent sabotage, Iraqis increasingly have begun to suspect that the U.S.-led invasion was aimed at stealing their natural wealth, not liberating them from oppression.

"We can't walk our streets even in daylight. I had to come here with my daughter so she could apply for a job. This never happened under the previous regime," said Khalida Hadi, her anger growing. "Nothing works. No electricity. No water. Our food ration is nothing. We want our share of the oil money!"

Throughout Adhamiya, pro-Hussein sentiment abounds. "We don't want lights or water, just Saddam Hussein," reads one slogan spray-painted on a low wall. "Long live the father of all martyrs," proclaims a banner.

In the Shiite neighborhood of Grayat, outrage at the Najaf blast was directed toward Hussein and foreign terrorists, as well as at U.S. forces for creating the conditions that allowed the terrorists' infiltration.

"As long as he is alive we will suffer attacks like this," predicted Hajiya Tadhi Saaud, expressing confusion about why heavily armed U.S. soldiers who, at least in Baghdad, seem to be everywhere cannot find the deposed dictator and bring him to justice.

"We are peace-loving people and don't want to be pushed to war against anybody," said Murtada Hussein, who owns an electronics shop in Grayat. "But we expect to be protected."

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