2008: A look ahead at the Iraq war
With security improved throughout much of Iraq, the constant fear of death is gone, many Iraqis say. The struggle now is how to live. Buying food is hard...
A look backThe top 10 stories of 2007, according to U.S. editors and news directors. (Polling took place before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday.)
1. Virginia Tech killings
Seung-Hui Cho, 23, who had avoided court-ordered mental-health treatment despite a history of psychiatric problems, killed two fellow students in a dormitory on April 16, detoured to mail a hate-filled video of himself to NBC News, then shot dead 30 students and professors in a classroom building before killing himself. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
2. Mortgage crisis
Record-setting wave of foreclosures, coupled with a steep slump in the housing market, buffeted markets and caused huge losses at major financial institutions.
3. Iraq war
The addition of more U.S. troops was credited with helping reduce overall violence. Thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. personnel were killed nonetheless, and Iraqi political leaders still struggle to reach national reconciliation.
4. Oil prices
Oil prices soared to record highs, burdening motorists and owners of oil-heated homes, and nudging Congress to pass a major energy bill.
5. Chinese exports
An array of Chinese exports were recalled, ranging from toys with lead paint to defective tires to tainted toothpaste and food.
6. Global warming
Warnings about consequences of climate change gained intensity with new reports from scientific panels and Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth."
7. Bridge collapse
An Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people and injuring about 100.
8. Presidential campaign
Large fields in both major parties battled for support ahead of caucuses and primaries that will decide the 2008 nominees.
9. Immigration debate
A compromise plan, backed by President Bush and Democratic leaders, collapsed in Congress due to Republican opposition.
10. Iran's nuclear program
The United States and other countries pressed Iran to halt uranium enrichment. A U.S. intelligence report concluded Iran had a nuclear-weapons program but stopped in 2003.
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD — With security improved throughout much of Iraq, the constant fear of death is gone, many Iraqis say. The struggle now is how to live.
Buying food is hard. Lighting, cooling or heating a house isn't easy. Fixing the car is a risk. Finding a doctor or a good teacher can be nearly impossible.
Increasing jobs and construction are a long way off for some areas in Iraq. In the north, violence by al-Qaida in Iraq is picking up. Kirkuk residents describe a stagnating city in which Arabs and Kurds won't travel within each other's neighborhoods while each tries to claim the city. Violence also continues among rival Shiite factions in Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Karbala and Basra provinces in the south.
"We don't hear any clashes or car bombs. Nobody wakes up to find dead bodies on their stretch of pavement anymore," said Widad Hameed, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Yarmouk, a Sunni Muslim-majority neighborhood in western Baghdad.
But, Hameed said, she and her family have only one or two hours of electricity each day. Kerosene rarely is available in her neighborhood, even on the black market. She wore three sweaters, a house robe, two pairs of socks and a scarf to warm herself in the winter temperatures last week. Four of her 13 grandchildren left Iraq to attend college.
"We don't know what to do. We don't trust the government; we don't trust the armed forces. How can we trust their promises of reduced danger?" Hameed said. "Our aspirations have become so small. It's a happy day for me if we have water to cook and bathe and some electricity at 9 p.m. so I can watch Oprah" on satellite television.
Therein lies the challenge of 2008, diplomats, soldiers, politicians and academics said in a rare show of unanimity. The security gains of 2007 were the result not only of the increase in the number of U.S. troops patrolling the capital, but also in an ad-hoc strategy not originally contemplated when President Bush announced the troop buildup last January: the creation of local security groups known as awakening councils in some of Baghdad's most troubled neighborhoods.
Those groups, and their U.S.-anointed leaders, now must receive official status in Iraq's political system. What relationship they'll have to the central government must be resolved. Until then, the drop in violence won't be sustainable, many Iraqi and American officials fear.
"In some respects, the positive developments in the latter half of 2007 also represent the challenges of 2008," Ryan Crocker, the U.S. envoy to Iraq, said last week. "There will be the ongoing challenges of reconciliation. And if there is a single overarching issue that will determine the future of the country, that's it for me in one word."
Two years after Iraqis swarmed to the polls to ratify a constitution and elect a new government, they're more perplexed then ever about what they can count on from the central government.
Led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, that government largely was absent from the improved security situation. As parliamentarians bickered — often along sectarian lines — U.S. troops mobilized local leaders, usually tribal sheiks. Some were former insurgents, now paid with American or sometimes provincial money.
Residents no longer waited for the central government and its military and police to protect them. They turned to new local leaders, mostly Sunnis, and took up arms themselves in exchange for salaries from the U.S. military.
But those unelected local leaders can't provide basic services.
U.S. officials say they're depending on al-Maliki's regime to find a way to improve services and incorporate the awakening councils.
The rise of the U.S.-financed local groups also has some analysts wondering about the government's future.
"The leverage of the central government is slipping," said Vali Nasr, an expert in Shiite Islam for the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. research center. That lack of a strong central authority could provoke local leaders to fight among themselves for control.
"The reality of Iraq is that these guys are divided. Local governments could butt up against one another," he said. "The big battle for Iraq is not done."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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