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Security Still Number One Concern Among Iraqis - 2004-03-16

A majority of Iraqis told pollsters recently their lives are better since the ouster of Saddam Hussein almost a year ago. But they also say lack of security is their number one concern. The worries are justified, as violence continues to claim more Iraqi lives every day.

Random gunfire, roadside bombs, targeted assassinations have become a daily occurrence that has most Iraqis on edge.

U.S. soldiers have been targeted since the war ended nearly a year ago. But Iraqis who have found work as translators or drivers for U.S. troops now are feeling vulnerable, too.

So are Iraqis who work with U.S. civilians helping with Iraq's reconstruction, or foreign reporters covering Iraq's transition.

After receiving several threats, 28-year-old Selwan Abdulghani, who worked as a translator for VOA, was shot and killed on the night of March 5 by unknown gunmen as he was driving home from dinner at his sister's house. His mother and five-year-old daughter were with him in the car and also died in the attack.

A few days later, two U.S. civilians and their Iraqi translator were killed near Hilla, south of Baghdad.

A few days later, an Iraqi translator working with U.S. troops was killed in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul. Four U.S. missionaries were killed in the same area the day before.

Dozens of Iraqis working with foreigners say they have been followed or have received warnings and death threats.

Baghdad hospitals say that every day they treat Iraqi civilians wounded by random gunfire or injured in the crossfire between U.S. soldiers and insurgents.

One official involved in security matters says anyone associated with the changes now under way in Iraq has become a target - from engineers repairing the infrastructure to teachers dealing with revamped school programs.

Iraqi policemen are frequently attacked and politicians working on Iraq's future government have also been targeted.

Even while Iraqi politicians debate the selection of the provisional government that will take control of the country at the end of June, ordinary Iraqis wonder aloud how they can curb the violence.

Iraqi businessman Mohammed Ismail Sherif says holding any elections is not possible because of the explosive security situation.

In a recent interview in Baghdad, Iraqi Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman agreed the violence could delay elections that are to take place by the end of this year or early next year at the latest.

"If we can't deal with this terrorism and make security and stability, I don't think you can make [hold] elections," he said. "They could blow up ballot boxes. So people will be afraid."

Husham Ahmed, 32, blames a lot of the violence on the continued presence of U.S.-led coalition forces, even though he welcomed the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein from power.

"They [foreign troops] had their role, he says, and it's over," he said. "Now they are just making problems for us. He says most of the violence is directed against the foreign troops."

Mr. Ahmed's ambiguous attitude toward the coalition forces is reflected in this week's survey, which shows that Iraqis felt both humiliated by the U.S.-led war and liberated by the invasion. Iraqis responding to the poll were almost evenly split between those who support the continued presence of coalition forces and those who want the troops to leave.

And most expect the violence to intensify, as the June deadline approaches for the U.S.-led coalition to transfer power and the responsibility for national security to a provisional Iraqi government.