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Many Iraqis Have High Hopes for Democracy, Despite Recent Surge in Violence - 2004-04-23

Many Iraqis say they believe the recent surge of violence is primarily the work of uneducated, poverty-stricken Iraqis, who are being pushed by religious extremists, forces loyal to former dictator Saddam Hussein and foreign terrorists. But optimism for democracy seems to remain high among many people there.

While the resolve of the insurgents in Iraq has intensified over recent weeks, it does not seem to have affected the optimism that many Iraqis share for the development of a free and democratic country. In fact, here in Baghdad, some say the surge in violence has only intensified their own resolve to see democracy flourish in this country.

Civil engineer Shakwed Fadhil, who works for Iraq's Ministry of Trade, says many of the country's current problems are being caused by poor, uneducated Iraqis.

?I think this is the measurement now. If you are poor people I think you are not satisfied,? he said. ?You are saying Americans are not good, they are bad people. Saddam was better for them. If you are doing good, if you have good interests, you say what do people want more than that? There's money, there's labor [work], there is happiness.?

In Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim stronghold west of Baghdad, recent fighting has claimed the lives of hundreds of Iraqis. In the southern city of Basra, a series of explosions this week killed many more people, including several children.

But in Baghdad, life is relatively normal, as people go about their day-to-day activities.

Sunni Muslim religious leader Abbas Azubaidi says part of the difference is education and income. He says the fighters in Fallujah are poor people who have fallen prey to Saddam Hussein loyalists, who promise that fighting the coalition will lead them out of poverty.

Mr. Azubaidi says the leaders of the insurgency are Shi'ite Muslim extremists, or belong to the former Iraqi Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's elite military unit. He says in order to end their influence in Fallujah and elsewhere, jobs should be created so that poor people can begin working and making money. He says that kind of empowerment is the best defense against forces seeking to prevent the spread of democracy.

Mr. Azubaidi says at his mosque in Baghdad, there is no talk of revolt or resistance. Instead, he says he only hears discussion of freedom, and he says everyone he knows believes anyone associated with the former regime should be arrested.

The head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, says creating jobs has been his number one long-term concern. But he admits that effort has been hampered by the ongoing attacks.

The owner of a popular restaurant in downtown Baghdad, Abu Sitar Ali, says Iraqis from all walks of life come in to enjoy his food, side-by-side. But he sees a clear distinction between the political views of those who are educated and those who are not.

Mr. Ali says what draws his attention in the restaurant is that he sees educated people expressing a clear view of a peaceful, democratic Iraq. He says they reject violence against the coalition and are confident democracy will come. But Mr. Ali says less well-educated people and what he called religious extremists tend to criticize the coalition and support the insurgency. He says everyone should reject such views. Mr. Ali also says many patrons of his restaurant have expressed greater fear for their safety following the recent violence in Fallujah and Basra, but he believes the majority of Iraqis in relatively peaceful Baghdad remain fully committed to the development of a free and democratic Iraq.