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Baghdad Residents Hope for Peace, Tranquility in 2004 - 2003-12-31

The year 2003 was full of great upheavals in Iraq, and residents of Baghdad are hoping for more peace and tranquility in 2004.

Iraq has seen changes in the past year that few could have imagined possible. An invading army toppled the dictator, Saddam Hussein, who had ruled the country for three decades.

The transition to what the U.S.-led coalition hopes will be an Iraqi democracy is a work in progress. Iraqis are living with a constant threat of insurgent attacks and the fear of being caught up in more violence.

Many Iraqis are going into 2004 with misgivings.

And so some people have only the most modest wishes for the new year. Amjid Jaffar, 25, is thinking about heating his home and driving his car.

He says his real wish is that 2004 will bring kerosene, propane, and gasoline.

It is a simple wish borne out of a harsh reality. Most Iraqis either have to wait in line for two or three days to buy gasoline at a garage, or pay a lot more for it on the black market.

The continuing fuel shortage is a constant source of frustration to Baghdad residents, who know their country is one of the world's richest producers of gas and oil.

Iraqis are also wishing for more security in the New Year, and they generally blame American troops for failing to provide it. Even though the war is officially over, the sound of gunfire, explosions and low-flying helicopters is still background noise for many of them.

Amid the insecurity, some people appear to have forgotten the hardships of life under Saddam Hussein, and sometimes sound nostalgic for his return. But with Saddam's capture earlier this month, many Iraqis are coming to grips with the new reality.

Like many others, Abdul Rahman Mahmoud wants the U.S.-led occupiers to leave, and he is developing his own vision for his country.

He says we wish that peace, goodness, safety and security would come to this country. And, he says he hopes that Islamic Sharia law will rule Iraq.

But there is fear among some people on the streets that Iraq will sink into sectarian civil war after the coalition forces leave. In a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country held together for decades by cruelty, some people are pessimistic it can survive as a democracy.

So far, there is little agreement among the people on what kind of government Iraq should have, and how it should be chosen. Khazal Najim Alwan, 60, is hoping for one that will unite, rather than divide the country.

He says, God willing, we hope for democracy, safety, personal freedom, and brotherhood, with all of the different factions working hand in hand to build a new Iraq.

Mr. Alwan shares the hope for a peaceful Iraq with many other people. They say they hope a year from now, their country will be sovereign and safe to live in.