BAGHDAD, 23 December 2011 (IRIN) – Every day, the bleak concrete blast walls circling Baghdad’s northern neighbourhood of Adhamiya trigger flashbacks in the mind of Sahib Awad Maarouf of the violence which plagued Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.
“It annoys me and others to see them every day,” said Maarouf, a 69-year-old Sunni construction engineer. “They serve as a reminder of the US occupation, the violence we witnessed over the past years and a source of worry for our future,” he said.
As US troops withdraw from Iraq, capping a nearly nine-year war, the future of the battered nation has been thrown into doubt by fears that Iraqis are still not ready to handle their future alone.
The stakes are high in a country with more than 1.2 million internally displaced people and another 177,000 Iraqis registered as refugees in neighbouring countries – a symbol of the lingering humanitarian dimension of the conflict.
More than 20 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. An estimated 2.1 million Iraqis are undernourished: on average, they spend more than one third of their total expenditures on food, and nearly three quarters of the population depend on a public distribution system as their primary source for wheat flour. The vast majority of the population does not have electricity 24 hours a day; and access to clean water is still limited in rural areas.
In 2009 there were about 140,000 US troops in the country. Today there are only 200 – to train Iraqi security forces and protect US diplomats.
In 2007, Maarouf, a father of four, was abducted by Sunni militants belonging to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group which controlled many of the Sunni areas at the height of the insurgency. He was freed after about 24 hours when he paid a US$80,000 ransom.
His son was shot in his left leg by thieves who tried to steal the money he withdrew from the bank for the ransom.
Yet, he still sees these blast walls – many erected to prevent Shia and Sunni militants from attacking each others’ neighbourhoods – as a “heavy” legacy of the war weighing on Iraqis’ hearts.