Iraqi anger mounts over US inaction

Iraq – The Aftermath

FROM the top of a 3-m-high cinder block, two American soldiers keep watch on a street not far from the city centre.

They smile and seem oblivious to people plundering a petrol warehouse near a seven-storey government office.

Not much more than 10 m away from the soldiers’ M-16 rifles, the thieves stroll in with jerry cans, fill up and walk out. It’s just like a filling station. But no one pays.

Mr Salam Abbas, 30, says unapologetically: ‘We are not doing anything wrong. The Americans opened the gates and said, Ali Baba, Ali Baba, come in and help yourselves’.’

Truth or excuse, this is a line which if repeated can shred the Operation Iraqi Freedom banner.

Even in Paradise Square, bristling with American tanks, neither US soldiers nor their halo as liberators is safe.

Here, Monday began with snipers and US Marines exchanging fire close to the Palestine Hotel, where the Americans are based. It died down after a man was arrested in a nearby building, said Reuters.

Later, scores of angry Baghdad residents converged on the place, holding up handwritten placards that read ‘Where is our future?’ and ‘We want security’, as they pressed close to the barbed-wire entrance of the hotel.

One placard read: ‘They are only protecting the oil and leaving our stores, universities and hospitals unprotected.’

Indeed, in this capital of chaos, where even hospitals, schools and museums have been looted, one building that remains virtually untouched is the Iraqi Ministry of Oil in west Baghdad.

Said Mr Etham Egam, 36, a taxi driver: ‘No one will come close to it because the Americans are guarding it like hawks. They are showing their true colours now – they only want our oil.’

But there are signs all over that Baghdad is inching back from anarchy.

Street buses are back and so are traffic jams. Shops and market stalls are opening up. Lines were forming at an increasing number of bakeries serving up fresh bread.

But the power is still out and running water remains a fantasy for most in Baghdad.

Local anger continues to build against US soldiers.

Said student Feras Mohan, 22: ‘I want Iraq to be like America one day. But now they come with their tanks and soldiers everywhere. There is no peace, no security. What are they doing here? Are they liberating us or occupying Iraq?’

Last week’s images of Iraqis smiling, cheering and waving at US forces as the tanks rolled in have gone stale.

Observers say the jubilation in Shi’ite-dominated Saddam City was far from city-wide. And thumbs-up gestures may be offensive signs to Arabs, said Middle East expert Hussein Nafae of the University of Cairo in Egypt.

‘There is a misperception that most Iraqis welcomed the Americans,’ he said. ‘What one saw in that TV footage was not the real Iraq.’

Some analysts think Uncle Sam closed an eye to the orgy of destruction because it needed the world to see Iraqis publicly demonstrating their hatred for the past regime.

Whatever the reason, US inaction has backfired.

Tourist guide Talal Miicke Abdul Wahab, 54, said: ‘The Americans got rid of the tyrant Saddam. But we don’t want one tyranny to be replaced by another.’

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