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Daily violence still mars Iraqi lives
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) March 19, 2013

Mixed feelings for general who led Australia in Iraq war
Sydney (AFP) March 19, 2013 - The general who led Australian troops in the Iraq conflict said Tuesday big mistakes were made by the United States in the post-Saddam Hussein era as he voiced mixed feelings about the war.

Peter Cosgrove was chief of the Australian Defence Force in 2003 when then-prime minister John Howard committed 2,000 Australian troops in support of the US-led invasion.

Launched with the stated goal of wiping out Saddam's stores of weapons of mass destruction, the war aimed to enshrine a liberal democracy in the Middle East but instead unleashed sectarian violence and endless political disputes.

According to a new report by the Britain-based Iraq Body Count group on Sunday, at least 112,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion and in an interview with ABC radio, Cosgrove said it was a high price.

"Looking back you'd have mixed feelings about the whole episode and I suppose you'd cling to a few things -- a horrible dictator eventually was removed and the people of Iraq have a new chance, even though they've had enormous suffering," he said.

"There's been a lot of bloodshed along the way and that's always horribly regrettable -- but all war is a mistake, all war."

In hindsight, he said coalition forces made errors in failing to adequately plan for the post-Saddam era, particularly the policy to rid Iraq completely of the dictator's legacy.

"20-20 hindsight shows that there were big mistakes made in the early part of the post-Saddam period, that is, when the man was still hiding out but after he'd left government," he said.

"Yes, one might say the breaking up of the Ba'ath party, the breaking up of the Iraqi army, these did not... these were not in hindsight good decisions."

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found but Cosgrove does not believe that the war was predicated on a lie.

"Well a lie is... that presupposes people deliberately contrived to invent a reason for war and that's certainly not the Australian experience," he said.

He said the Australian approach was that Saddam had used such weapons against Iranians and Kurdish Iraqis and the probability was that he retained some and they were "arguably available for global terrorists".

"So that was, on probabilities, the reason why Australia joined the coalition and we're still not persuaded that there was a lie involved in that," he said.

"Maybe, as we saw after the event -- we didn't find any WMDs so everybody was chagrined about that."

Asked if the Iraq war had ultimately made the world a safer place, Cosgrove said "there was never going to be a sort of a line drawn under global terrorism as a result of Iraq".

"I thought I would die," Umm Khudair said softly, her face streaked with tears.

The car bomb that ripped through a bird market in Baghdad a month ago remains vivid for her -- a bloody reminder of the violence that continues to plague Iraq, a decade after Saddam Hussein's ouster.

"I saw debris flying in all directions," she said, perched on a stool behind her stall selling mint, sage, thyme and other freshly-cut plants. "There were people wounded, and cars destroyed everywhere I looked."

The twin car bombs on February 8 struck Kadhimiyah, a mostly-Shiite area in north Baghdad, as people crowded the market to look at the doves and pigeons on offer.

In all, 17 people were killed and 45 others wounded.

Jawad and his brother Sajad, who both work in their father's fruit and vegetable stall near the bird market, were among those hurt.

"I was arranging the bananas when the bomb went off," Jawad recalled. "At first, I did not even feel as though I was injured."

"I first thought of my brother -- he was in his car in the parking lot. I went to see if he was there, but I could not find him. Finally, we got a call from the hospital, which told us he had been in emergency care, hurt."

"That was when the second explosion took place," the 21-year-old said.

Jawad managed to escape with light wounds to his leg, and is now in good health, but as he spoke, his father Dhorgam looked on nervously.

When he discussed the violence that Iraq still grapples with, Dhorgam spoke of the "tests" the country has faced since the beginning of its brutal sectarian war several years ago.

"Every day is worse than the last," Dhorgam muttered. "All the time, there are attacks. We are not safe."

"Sometimes," he admitted, "at night, I wake up in a start -- I feel as though I have heard an explosion."

Violence has declined dramatically since its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common, with hundreds still killed on a monthly basis, according to an AFP tally.

Overall, at least 116,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 4,800 coalition troops died in Iraq between the outbreak of war in 2003 and the US withdrawal in 2011, according to an estimate published in the British medical journal The Lancet on Friday.

Britain-based Iraq Body Count, meanwhile, said on Sunday that at least 112,000 civilians have died since the invasion.

Baghdad in particular is still hit by regular bombings and shootings.

But whereas the worst of Iraq's violence, during which thousands were dying every month, was characterised as a sectarian war, now most of the deadliest attacks are claimed by Sunni militants linked to Al-Qaeda who are bent on destabilising the Shiite-led government.

Despite the still-high levels of violence, deadly attacks in Iraq rarely make the headlines internationally, and according to one top diplomat, little will change until the country's political leaders reform its institutions in a bid to address the root causes of violence.

"The answer to the violence is a political solution," Gyorgy Busztin, deputy head of the UN mission in Iraq, told AFP.

Busztin cited, among other things, strengthening the legal system and guaranteeing adequate representation of Iraq's various ethnic and religious communities in government departments.

He advocated "creating institutions that serve people, and are strong, and to make sure that no human rights abuses occur, to restore the rule of law."

"All of this, together, would contribute to creating a political system which would be conducive to reducing violence," he said.

At her stall in Kadhimiyah Umm Khudair continues to cry, especially when she thinks of the numerous family members lost to violence over the years.

"They are all gone," she said, trying unsuccessfully to choke back the tears. "It is over. They will not return."


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