March 20, 2005


In land of fear, hope takes root: Nation looks to future, though violence rages (Thanassis Cambanis, March 20, 2005, Boston Globe)

''Even though there is pain and the sacrifice is complicated, we are gaining against the criminals," says Adnan Nusaif Jasim al-Saidi, 49. Less than a month after casting the first free vote of his life, for fellow Shi'ites, Saidi tasted the worst of what the new Iraq offers: Two of his brothers and a nephew, on their way to bury an aunt in a cemetery south of Baghdad, were murdered by sectarian killers who then called from the dead men's cellphones, taunting them for being ''Shi'ite pigs and infidels."

He displays almost preternatural positive energy in the face of such loss, but his story tells only part of what has happened to Iraq in the past two years.

Shi'ites in southern Iraq are living in boom times, their lives relatively secure, their political prospects riding high. Shi'ites account for two-thirds of the country's population, and about half of them live in the long-ignored and destitute south.

They have seen health clinics sprout in Najaf and Nasiriyah and port facilities reopen in Umm Qasr, bringing thousands of jobs.

More importantly, these Shi'ites still rejoice at a new era free from the Ba'athist intelligence service that pursued them with particular vengeance, methodically torturing or executing draft dodgers and suspected rebels.

If the occasional suicide bombings puncture their calm, many of them say it's a bearable if tragic toll to pay for an end to the state-sponsored bloodbath they endured for more than 20 years.

Similarly, Kurds in their semi-autonomous enclave in the north have only seen their influence and prosperity grow; they had already flourished under the protection of the American no-fly zone, which had kept the Ba'athists in Baghdad at bay since 1991. Over the past two years they have exerted unprecedented influence over Iraq's central government, while their region has prospered as the safest base for business in Iraq.

In Baghdad, a few blocks from Saidi's home, a Sunni businessman unwittingly echoes his Shi'ite neighbor's enthusiasm for the future, even as he watches his fortune wither away with the protections of the Ba'ath regime gone.

''For the first time I am using my mind," said Mohammed Faleh al-Dulaimi, 35, an entrepreneur who raked in cash under the old regime through Ba'athist connections and strategic bribes. Two of his four businesses have failed, and until recently Faleh saw guerrillas fighting US troops as the standard-bearers of Iraqi pride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 20, 2005 10:06 AM
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