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Post-Saddam Iraq defined by division

  • 20 March 2013

Ten years ago, on 20 March 2003, a US led coalition invaded Iraq. On 9 April Baghdad fell to the US led forces. On 1 May the then US president George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and apperaed under a banner proclaiming 'Mission Accomplished'. He effectively declared victory.

A decade later, peace has not been accomplished. Nobody knows how many Iraqis were killed in the ten years. Some estimates start at 100,000 (WikiLeaks) to 172,000 (Iraq Body Count). Some go as high as 500,000 or more (Lancet). In March 2013 alone an estimated 196 civilians have been killed.

Baghdad is now more divided according to sect than was the case during Saddam Hussein's reign. In some cases, militias and gangs force out one group, such as Sunni, who take over the houses of Shias forced out of other suburbs. Iraqis tell me religious differences were not so important in the past. Now they define you.

Many Christians have fled Iraq altogether. One Christian engineer told me he remembers celebrating religious festivals with his neighbours, such as Eid after Ramadan. They in turn would celebrate Christmas with him. Such interfaith experiences are almost unknown now. Even Sunni and Shia find it unsafe to mix.

How did it come to this? Saddam maintained an oppressive dictatorship, but Iraqis tell me that at least under Saddam you knew where the boundaries were. Now there is uncertainty and indiscriminate violence. Only last week a bomb blast in Baghdad killed 18 people and wounded 67. Such attacks are not uncommon.

In the 1970s and even 1980s Iraq had one of the highest standards of education in the Middle East, comparable in many respects to western countries. Now the educated classes are fleeing. About 40 per cent of the middle class of Iraq — doctors, engineers, academics and teachers — have fled Iraq. Many others without the money and skills have been forced to relocate internally.

Although Saddam is dead, the evolving violence since March 2003 has not been brought under control. There are elements of Sunni and Shia extremists, some former Bathists, al-Qaeda-linked groups, Iranian contingents and criminal gangs all involved at varying levels to create the violence lived on