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War's sixth anniversary largely ignored

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-03-23

Neither the US military nor the Iraqi authorities have announced plans to commemorate the March 20, 2003 invasion that toppled President Saddam Hussein, an anniversary marked only by anti-war protesters and hastened US pullout plans.

Neither Iraqi authorities nor the US military have announced plans to commemorate the March 20, 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime – in Iraq, no celebrations are expected at all. Anti-war militants, on the other hand, are holding vigils and staging non-violent protests around the world to remind people that six years down the line, the war continues.


If US President Barack Obama has his way, though, this anniversary will be one of the last for US troops in Iraq: the 140,000 US troops stationed there should pull out of towns and cities within the next three months, with full US withdrawal scheduled for the end of 2011.


Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, had predicted a short and relatively painless war. After six years of bloody battles and near-daily acts of violence, his turned out to be wishful thinking. A day before the US invasion’s sixth anniversary, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Kakob Kellenberger, reminded the international community that “millions of Iraqi civilians are still facing hardship every day.” His statement at the end of a five-day visit to the country pointed out that “(i)ndiscriminate attacks continue to leave dozens of people killed or injured on a daily basis despite improvements in the security situation in many parts of Iraq.”


More than 4,200 US soldiers have perished in the war. By some counts, nearly 100,000 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.


Cautious optimism


Still, the death rate from fighting is dropping. According to figures compiled by the Iraqi ministries of defence, interior and health, 6,772 Iraqi soldiers, policemen and civilians were killed in attacks or shootings in 2008, down from 17,430 the year before. Encouraged by the lull in violence, the tourism ministry has even suggested Iraq is now safe for foreign tourists.


The country organised its first regional elections under Iraqi control on January 31. Unlike a widely shunned 2005 poll, this time none of the major political or religious factions in the country boycotted the vote. The election went relatively smoothly and was perceived as an encouraging sign regarding the Iraqi authorities' capacity to uphold security.


However, for Pakistani author Tariq Ali, speaking on the pacifist US radio station Democracy Now, this progress is due less to the oft-quoted 2007 troop surge ordered by George W. Bush than to various deals US forces concluded with local leaders. “I think basically what the US did in Iraq was to buy off the opposition. Large numbers of people who were fighting them, especially from the Sunni section of society, were paid a lot of money and partially given control of their towns,” he said.


Date created : 2009-03-20