Baghdad, 21 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Mufid al-Jazairi, a former Iraqi culture minister and a parliamentary candidate on the Iraqi National List, believes “the transitional period [is] over” and that 2006 will mark an important stage in Iraq's development as a democratic state. "I am generally optimistic, especially after the third election this year,” he said. “The year 2005 was truly decisive for the development of Iraq's future…The process of building a new Iraq and the first steps toward the construction of its democratic and constitutional bodies begins next year."
For Laith Khalil, a 28-year-old health-sector employee in Amara Province, south of Baghdad, the chief concerns are economic. "As a state employee, I hope for higher salaries that will match the increase in prices for food and fuel, which affect our daily life,” he said. “I hope that our salaries will keep up with the cost of living."
"Security was better before. We could go out after midnight, but now the security situation does not allow us to do that because of curfews,” says Samer Abdel Razaq, a 22-year-old engineering student at the University of Baghdad. “But there are some positive developments now,” he continues. “We were deprived of mobile phones and access to the Internet, which we have access to now. There are positive and negative sides to everything."
A similarly philosophical note is struck by 50-year-old Rafida Ali, a teacher at a girls secondary school in Baghdad. She highlights the terrible sacrifices, but nevertheless remains optimistic. "It is a difficult feeling to describe. There is a strain from both sides. There is freedom and breathing space. We can still breath, despite losing many things, like security, first of all, which is the most important thing. We had very serious losses -- loved ones who couldn't be replaced,” she says, but “along with the big sacrifices and difficulties, we have the hope that we are going in the right direction, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
Speaking on 19 December, U.S. President George Bush said that an estimated 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in March 2003. That figure falls within the range cited by Iraq Body Count, a U.S.-British nongovernmental group that tallies casualties reported by the media.