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Challenges in Iraq Far from Over

Three years ago, President Bush ordered coalition forces to invade Iraq to free its people and to act on intelligence that indicated its dictator had weapons of mass destruction, which threatened global security. At the time, Mr. Bush noted that the campaign to liberate the country could be long and difficult.

As part of a VOA's series marking the third anniversary of the invasion, reporter Peter Fedynsky examines the difficulties and benefits it has brought to Iraq.

The Iraqi people today are free of dictator Saddam Hussein. But the country, apparently, did not have any weapons of mass destruction.

Today, President Bush says the military objective is to protect American security by turning Iraq into a democracy. More than 2,500 coalition troops, all but about 200 of them Americans, have died for that cause.

Most were killed by an enemy that President Bush describes as brutal terrorists and insurgents who hate freedom. And Iraqi casualties are estimated as high as 32,000.

"But that brutality has not stopped the dramatic progress of a new democracy. In less than three years, the nation has gone from dictatorship to liberation, to sovereignty, to a constitution, to national elections," said Mr. Bush.

Despite these changes, the commander of coalition forces, General Michael Casey, says this is a difficult time in Iraq.

"We all should be clear that Iraqis remain under threat of terrorist attack by those who will stop at nothing to undermine the formation of the constitutionally-elected government," he said.

That government was voted upon in two national elections held in Iraq in January and December 2005.

The democratic principle of majority rule has shifted influence from Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs, who held power in the region for centuries, to the majority Shiites. James Jeffrey, senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State and Coordinator for Iraq Policy, says this is proper.

"What is happening right now is considerable jockeying for positions, be it the prime minister, be it other key ministerial positions among the various groups," he said. "Of importance is, all of the groups, including the Sunni Arabs, are participating in this informal, but very active, and I think very positive negotiations."

Jeffrey notes that northern and southern Iraq are relatively peaceful. However, he acknowledges that in central Iraq, Sunni elements opposed to the government are sabotaging the area's water, electric, and telephone infrastructure in order to make the country ungovernable. They are also striking at U.S. forces that are trying to rebuild the infrastructure. In addition, Sunni and Shia extremists are attacking each other's mosques in hostilities that are bordering on civil war. Increasing the turmoil are foreign jihadists, who have come to Iraq to kill Americans.

Many U.S. critics of the war contend that Iraqis now see Americans not as liberators, but occupiers. Among them, Congressman Jack Murtha, an opposition Democrat from Pennsylvania who initially supported the effort.

"So there is no way you can win a war when you have lost not only the hearts and minds of the people, but when you have become their enemy," he said.

The Bush administration says the U.S. military will leave when Iraq's own forces can secure the country's fledgling democracy. However, the Pentagon last month downgraded the only Iraqi battalion capable of independent combat to a level requiring them to fight with American support. And U.S. Army veteran Garrett Reppenhagen, a former specialist and sniper in Iraq, questions the commitment of Iraqi soldiers.

"They don't really want to do the job because they are supporting democracy in Iraq or they believe in these high ideals. They're doing it for economic reasons," he explained. "So when the going gets tough, and they're getting shot at, a lot of times they'll disappear, they'll just leave if they are threatened."

In a letter to President Bush last month, Congressman Murtha noted that the Iraq war is costing more than $1 billion a week. Murtha also urged the reallocation of those funds to protect America's security and global image. The president, however, says that abandoning Iraq would create a power vacuum, which would be filled by forces bent on attacking the United States.