On the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, thousands of Iraqis protested the continued presence of U.S. and foreign forces in Iraq. Four years after the fall of Saddam Hussein?s government, 145,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. Since Washington?s decision in January to send more troops to Iraq, the security situation in most areas of Baghdad has improved. However, an insurgent umbrella group, calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for last Thursday?s suicide attack on the Parliament cafeteria in the capital?s heavily fortified Green Zone. In addition, a truck bombing on a major bridge in Baghdad the same day, at least temporarily struck a blow to the U.S. and Iraqi security plan to reign in violence.

Reaction to Iraq?s progress over the past four years is decidedly mixed. For example, former Iraqi Kurdish journalist Kamran Karadaghi, who is now a spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, calls his country a ?democracy in the making.? Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now?s International Press Club, Mr. Karadaghi says the war four years ago liberated Iraq from ?one of the worst dictatorships in the world.? In that period, Iraq held three elections in which 80 percent of the people voted. Iraq today, he says, has freedom of speech and a free press. But he also says serious security problems have overshadowed these positive political developments. Kamran Kardaghi calls federalism a ?fact of life in Iraq? and a principle ?enshrined in the constitution.

However, former Iraqi finance minister Ali Allawi said in a recent speech at the National Press Club in Washington that the post-invasion years have been a grave disappointment. And he described the Iraqi state as ?dysfunctional? and as ?less competent? than it was under Saddam. Nevertheless, he warned that withdrawing U.S. forces would lead to greater insecurity and instability.

British journalist Ian Williams notes that British view of the invasion of Iraq is largely critical and that prospects for real democracy are ?dim.? In Britain, he says, many ?high-ranking professional people? regarded U.S. military doctrine as ?inappropriate for a civilian occupation.? According to Ian Williams, reality has finally ?soaked through to both Washington and London" and Prime Minister Blair and President Bush have acknowledged that the situation is far from ideal and their plans for Iraq ?have not lived up to their great hopes.?

However, London-based Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh, who directs the Center for Arab-Iranian Studies, is more optimistic. He says the reports of terrorism and sectarian violence coming out of Iraq ignore what has been accomplished. The media are free and there is no censorship and, for the first time in 35 years, Iraqis can ?express themselves.? And, when Iraqis compare themselves with the other Arab countries, they say: ?They have security but they don?t have freedom. We have freedom, but we don?t have security.? Contrary to Western media coverage, Dr. Nourizadeh says, Iran?s influence over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki?s government may have waned in the past two or three months. For example, he says, American forces arrested five Iranian military officers in northern Iraq and the radical Shi?a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has gone to Iran with some of his commanders.

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