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Iraq: A country drenched in blood
Four years to the day after US and British troops invaded Iraq, its people are full of fear. Iraqis often have a look of half-suppressed panic in their eyes as they tell how violent death has touched them again and again.
By Patrick Cockburn in Khanaqin, Diyala Province
Published: 20 March 2007
"I have fled twice in the past year," said Kassim Naji Salaman as he stood beside his petrol tanker outside the town of Khanaqin in central Iraq this weekend. "I and my family used to live in Baghdad but we ran for our lives when my uncle and nephew were killed and we moved into a house in the village of Kanaan in Diyala."
Mr Salaman hoped he and his family, all Sunni, would be safer in a Sunni district. But almost everywhere in Iraq is dangerous. "Militiamen kidnapped my brother Natik, who used to drive this tanker, and forced him into the boot of their car," he continued. "When they took him out they shot him in the head and left his body beside the road. I am frightened of going back to Kanaan where my family are refugees because the militiamen would kill me as well."
Iraqis expected their lives to get better when the US and Britain invaded with the intention of overthrowing Saddam Hussein four years ago today. They were divided on whether they were being liberated or occupied but almost no Iraqis fought for the old regime in 2003. Even his own Sunni community knew that Saddam had inflicted almost a quarter of a century of hot and cold war on his own people. He had reduced the standard of living of Iraqis, owners of vast oil reserves, from a level close to Greece to that of Mali.
No sooner had Saddam Hussein fallen than Iraqis were left in no doubt that they had been occupied not liberated. The army and security services were dissolved. As an independent state Iraq ceased to exist. "The Americans want clients not allies in Iraq," lamented one Iraqi dissident who had long lobbied for the invasion in London and Washington.
Guerrilla war against the US forces by the five million strong Sunni community erupted with extraordinary speed and ferocity. By summer 2003, whenever I went to the scene of a bomb attack or an ambush of US soldiers I would find jubilant Iraqis dancing for joy around the pools of drying blood on the road or the smouldering Humvee vehicles.