The year 2004 began on a high note for Iraq. It was believed the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 would help quell insurgent violence and concerns his regime might return to power. But the hope for a more peaceful year was never realized. 2004 proved to more violent than many had expected. VOA's Greg LaMotte spent many of the past 12 months covering events in Iraq and in a yearend report from Baghdad looks back at a turbulent year in that country.
For most Iraqis, the year 2004 will probably be remembered as the year of the insurgency.
Every day, emergency vehicles could be heard racing to the scene of dozens of suicide car bombings that killed hundreds of Iraqi citizens, police and National Guard troops, as well as many U.S. forces and troops from other countries that are part of the U.S.-led coalition.
Karim Yousef is general manager of Radio Dijla in Baghdad, a station that closely monitors public opinion.
Mr. Yousef says he considers 2004 the year of terrorism because so many innocent Iraqis were killed by insurgents.
There were mortar and rocket attacks throughout the country. Key government leaders were assassinated. The heavily protected Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses the interim government as well as several embassies and foreign missions, was frequently hit by insurgents.
Early in 2004, insurgents also stepped up their campaign of kidnappings in an effort to force foreign governments and businesses to withdraw from Iraq. But with the exception of the Philippines, most rejected the demands. And, as a result, many of the hostages were beheaded.
The militant believed responsible for many of those kidnappings, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, remains on the loose. He is the most-wanted fugitive in Iraq.
Tahseen Hassan is the husband of 50-year-old humanitarian aide worker Margaret Hassan who was kidnapped while heading to her job as the director of CARE in Iraq.
"Release my wife," he said. "She is working for a humanitarian organization. And I ask you to release her."
Her captors did not release her. And Ms. Hassan became the first female hostage taken in Iraq to be killed by her kidnappers.
According to the senior adviser to the interior ministry, Sabah Kadhim, 2004 has been a year of hopes not realized.
"2004 did not start out very well because there were many expectations in terms of having a government in Iraq that is legitimate, in terms of having elections, in terms of providing services for Iraq, they were lacking," he said. "There were security problems. So, it was not a good start."
For U.S. forces, the low point in 2004 came in the early part of the year, when a scandal broke about how U.S. forces treated captives at the Abu Ghraib prison. Photos and videotapes surfaced, depicting American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. Since then, at least one soldier working at Abu Ghraib has been sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the abuse. Others await trial and investigations continue.
On June 28, the former U.S.-appointed Governing Council was officially dissolved when the acting administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, handed power to a United Nations appointed interim government. Sovereignty was returned to Iraq.
It came as the country was facing two major crises. The holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, was firmly under the control of Shiite militiamen. And, west of Baghdad, in the city of Fallujah, Sunni rebels and insurgents claimed control.
Both cities became no-go zones for Iraqi and American military personnel.
However, through negotiation, the interim government managed to get the militiamen in Najaf to return control of the streets to Iraqi police and National Guard troops.
Such would not be the case in Fallujah, which remained under insurgent control for several more months. However, in November, about 14,000 American and Iraqi troops staged a military offensive against the rebellious city to root out insurgents.
But while the campaign was successful in destroying command and control centers, senior Iraqi government officials said thousands of insurgents fled Fallujah and have since staged attacks in other parts of Iraq. The cities of Mosul, in the north, Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and in the capital itself, have regularly been attacked following the invasion of Fallujah.
One of the biggest political developments in Iraq came in November, when it was announced that elections would be held January 30 to select a 275-seat interim national assembly. More than 200 political parties have been formed that will vie for seats in the assembly.
Several political parties called for the elections to be postponed because of security concerns, but the interim government says the elections will take place as scheduled. The U.S. military says there will be 150,000 troops in Iraq prior to the elections.
Two more elections are scheduled to be held in 2005, including approval of a new constitution and the selection of a permanent national assembly.
Though parts of Iraq have become more stable in 2004, many problems remain. Iraqis still must wait for hours to buy gasoline. Their homes have little or no electricity. Many Iraqis say they do not feel safe. And millions of Iraqis are without work.
According to professor of economics at the Economic Institute of Iraq, Omar Arafat, the greatest threat to the future of Iraq is the lack of jobs.
"The poverty makes you think, let's say not in a good way," he said. "Always, if you have someone without a job, without money in his hand to pay for the school, to pay for his children, he will go the other way, the way of violence."
Senior government officials readily acknowledge that Iraq still faces many political, economic and military problems. However, these officials also say Iraqis are determined to move forward. While 2004 may be remembered in Iraq as the year of the insurgency, the officials say it could also be remembered as the year Iraqis refused to allow insurgents to plunge the country into a civil war.