Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 6 News List

US compounds own problems in Iraq, moderates say

AP , BAGHDAD

An Iraqi boy looks at a US soldier guarding his neighborhood. Moderate Iraqis say the conduct of US troops toward citizens is making them unpopular.

PHOTO: EPA

In the year since American troops rolled into Baghdad, moderate Iraqis have counseled patience to allow Washington time to deliver on its promise to replace Saddam Hussein's dictatorship with democratic rule. Others dismissed the occupiers as "infidels" from whom nothing good could come.

Photographs showing Iraqi prisoners sexually humiliated by smiling American guards, combined with long-standing complaints of heavy handedness and cultural insensitivity by US troops, have lent significant weight to the radical camp, compounding problems faced by Washington as it prepares to hand back power to Iraqis while dealing with Shiite and Sunni revolts.

The US military and top officials in President George W. Bush's administration have strongly condemned the abuses, emphasizing they were the work of a small number of soldiers. The military in Iraq also decided to grant the international Red Cross and Iraq's ministries of interior and human rights regular access to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

"The impact [of the Abu Ghraib scandal] on Iraqis will very much depend on the extent of their confidence that no stone was being left unturned by the investigations into the abuses and the efforts made to weed out those who broke the rule," coalition spokesman Gareth Bayley said.

But the extensive damage control effort, which included interviews with Bush on two Arab satellite television stations and apologies by top US military officers, may not be enough to assuage Iraqi anger.

Many Iraqis feel betrayed by the US. Gratitude for toppling Saddam has been replaced by frustration over America's perceived failure to meet all Iraqi aspirations.

"It's all lies and lies," said Haidar Younis, who runs an electrical appliances store in central Baghdad. "America wants us to drown in chaos while its soldiers kill hundreds of us in the name of democracy."

The Abu Ghraib scandal moved Baghdad University lecturer Ham-eed Shihab Ahmed to join Iraqis who question the motives of last year's US-led invasion. Rather than to promote democracy, many Iraqis believe Washington's goal was to control the country's oil wealth and promote Israel's regional interests.

"It is an occupation and by no means a liberation," said Ahmed, who specializes in international relations.

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