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Iraq Journals

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Friday, March 19

Fear remains constant in Iraq; security top priority

By John Yaukey | GNS

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Hadi au Deed didn't make it to prayers this Friday.

Instead, he walked near the concertina wire that protected the entrance to the Boratha Mosque, a potential target for terror on this one-year anniversary of the start of the war here.

``We need to do this for ourselves - we need to protect ourselves,'' he said, carefully containing the swing-arc of his shoulder-hanging AK-47. ``This is a time that the terrorists will use to strike - to make their issue with us. But it will not work because we are here to stop it - not the Americans.

Au Deed was blunt about his views on the United State's presence here. ``They have left us bare here, and we must take on the burden of the security task ourselves, `` he said. ``They should just leave now. They do nothing for us.''

In a quiet Baghdad suburb, Mohammed Musaed was a bit less eager for the Americans to leave.

``We just want them to give us enough security to live and do our work,'' said the gray-bearded family patriarch, thumbing his clay-colored worry beads.

For Iraqis, this is textbook love-hate.

What Iraqis say about the American presence - ``occupation'' as it is invariably called - often depends on where you are and with whom you speak.

On the street, Iraqis are virtually unanimous in their desire for the U.S. forces to leave.

But in moments of quiet contemplation, many acknowledge that a rapid pullout of U.S. forces would leave a dangerous vacuum that the developing local militias could not contain.

The fear is that the insurgents will succeed in their plans to foment civil war among the majority Shiites and the Sunni Arabs, who staffed the ranks of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

On March 2, insurgents used a suicide bomber to blast Shiite shrines in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala, killing more than 180 people. They were gathering for the sacred ceremony of the ashoura, which commemorates the slaying of Shiite patriarch Imam Hussein. He was the grandson of the prophet Muhammad and considered by Shiites to be a martyr.

Iraqis are fearful the months ahead will bring more violence.

The mid-April pilgrimage by a million or more Shiites from across Iraq and other Muslim nations is expected to attract more of the same carnage that disrupted the ashoura.

``We are very concerned about the pilgrimage, but we will not be put away from our practices,'' said Sheik Hussein al-Gharib, a prominent Shiite cleric.

On June 30, the U.S. civil authorities here are scheduled to transfer authority back to the Iraqis.

Iraqis and American officials here warn that the pilgrimage and the transfer of power are almost sure to incite additional waves of violence.

Again, the American and Iraqi aspirations for the future here all come back to security.

Without it, Friday prayers are a target.

Elections are a target.

The normal life Iraqis desperately want is a target.

``We've got to do something that gives the Iraqis hope - that allows them to regain some sense of normalcy,'' said Roald Hinter, a British engineer running infrastructure projects north of Baghdad. ``Think about the way you live. Without some stability, your life just goes to pieces.''