RAMADI, Iraq – The killing of Osama bin Laden was greeted with a mixture of emotions in Iraq, a country which paid a heavy price in the U.S. reponse to the September 11 attacks.
There was relief, indifference and worries about retaliation.
Iraq was invaded in 2003 by a U.S.-led coalition looking for weapons of mass destruction that were never found. Quickly, the conflict became a magnet for jihadists fighting foreign troops and all those seen by them as apostates or infidels including the country’s newly-empowered Shiite majority and the minority Christian community.
Kidnappings, beheadings and bombings of Shiite mosques and shrines and Christian churches became the hallmarks of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq in attacks that killed thousands and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
Although al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly weakened by the death and capture of several of its top leaders over the years, it remains a potent threat as Iraqis grapple with major challenges to their fragile democracy and hopes for a better future.
The Iraqi government, which has long blamed security failings on an alliance between al Qaeda elements and loyalists to former leader Saddam Hussein, welcomed the news hoping it would serve as a blow to extremism across the region.
“Iraqis are among those who sacrificed the most in order to eradicate terrorism,” said Ali al-Mussawi a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.