THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

War anniversary passes quietly

Iraqis preoccupied with the wait for election results

In Baghdad, a man walked past war wreckage, on the seventh anniversary of the war begun to oust Saddam Hussein. In Baghdad, a man walked past war wreckage, on the seventh anniversary of the war begun to oust Saddam Hussein. (Hadim Mizban/Associated Press)
By Rebecca Santana
Associated Press / March 20, 2010

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BAGHDAD — Seven years after the first bombs in the war to oust Saddam Hussein, Iraqis went about their business yesterday with little observance of the anniversary.

Perhaps more important in the minds of many was the wait for final results of the country’s second nationwide parliamentary election. The milestone will determine who will oversee Iraq as US forces go home, but it could also point the direction the fragile democracy will take down the road: either deeper into the sectarian divide that followed the fall of Hussein or toward a more secular, inclusive rule.

“Now we have democracy and freedom, but the cost was dire, and Iraqis have paid that price,’’ said Raid Abdul-Zahra, 38, a technician in Najaf.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition appears to be ahead in the tight race. With almost 90 percent of the vote counted by yesterday, his coalition was leading in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces, compared with five provinces for his closest rival, the Iraqiya coalition led by secular Shi’ite Ayad Allawi.

Many, especially among the country’s Sunni minority that dominated Iraq during Hussein’s rule, blame the United States for the sectarian violence that erupted after the invasion.

“Failure is the word that should be linked with the US war,’’ said Mohammed Thabit, a retired teacher from Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

“The Americans brought people to power, but those people are specialized in reprisals, blackmail, inflaming sectarianism, and robbing.’’

While violence has plummeted since the height of the bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, attacks continue.

At least four people were killed in bomb attacks yesterday across Iraq, and gunmen killed an Iraqi soldier in Baghdad.

Many Iraqis view the United States withdrawal plans with mixed feelings: pride that their country is regaining its full sovereignty but also concern that the lull in violence may break and bloodshed return.

“If the forces leave speedily, there will be a power vacuum and more problems will erupt because Iraqi forces are not loyal to Iraq but to their party affiliations,’’ said Abdul-Karim Moussa, 55, in Baghdad.

The conflict in numbers

Key figures since the war in Iraq began:

US troop level

March 31, 2003: 90,000.

October 2007: 170,000 at peak of troop buildup.

March 1, 2010: 96,000.

Coalition forces

Number of countries that participated at the start of the war: 31, including the United States.

By August 2009, all non-US coalition members had withdrawn.

Casualties

Confirmed US military deaths by yesterday: at least 4,385.

Deaths of civilian employees of US government contractors by Dec. 31, 2009: 1,457.

Deaths of non-US coalition troops: at least 315.

Iraqi deaths: more than 95,680, according to the Iraq Body Count database.

Cost

More than $712 billion, according to the National Priorities Project.

Cost of a barrel of oil

March 28, 2003: $21.50.

March 12, 2010: $77.32.

Oil production

Prewar: 2.58 million barrels per day.

March 17, 2010: 2.43 million barrels per day.

Sources: Associated Press, State Department, Defense Department, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, The Brookings Institution, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, National Priorities Project, Department of Labor, Congressional Budget Office, Iraq Body Count, Energy Information Administration