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Iraq: Radio Free Iraq Reporter Says Five Years After Invasion Began, Iraqis' Expectations Still Unmet

Iraqis from Diyala province in a refugee tent in the capital, Baghdad (AFP) The voice of Iraqi journalist Nadhem Yaseen has been heard on RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq since the service began broadcasting in October 1998. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz spoke with Yaseen about the hopes and expectations of ordinary Iraqis five years after the start of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein from power.

RFE/RL: International media marks March 20 as a significant date in history because it is the fifth anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But one would expect the start of the war -- with all the pain and suffering it has brought to so many people -- is not something celebrated by ordinary Iraqis. What do most Iraqis think about the anniversary of the start of the war?

Nadhem Yaseen: Definitely, the beginning of the invasion was a significant event because everybody was looking forward to the downfall of dictatorship and tyranny as a whole. But most Iraqis [instead] celebrate the downfall of dictatorship associated with the downfall of the statue of Saddam Hussein right in the center of Baghdad. Of course, that happened on April 9.

RFE/RL: You have been working with Radio Free Iraq for 10 years. For five years, listeners who heard your broadcasts did so secretly under the rule of Saddam Hussein's regime. But even now, almost five years after Hussein's ouster, you still use a fictitious name when you go on the air for your broadcasts into Iraq. Does that mean you are still concerned, at this stage, about threats to your personal safety because of your work as an Iraqi journalist who has spoken out against Hussein's regime as well as the guerrilla fighters who continue to battle in Iraq today?

Yaseen: At the beginning, most of us who joined Radio Free Iraq were afraid of Saddam's intelligence services. Later on, I felt that the danger was still there -- especially when there were so many anti-American groups targeting translators and whoever was associated with the multinational forces. So I preferred to keep my on-air name even after the downfall of the regime. We had many colleagues from Radio Free Iraq who were targets of guerrilla groups -- of terrorists. We had two colleagues who were killed and a colleague who was taken hostage. It's sad to talk about this, but we have so many other colleagues in the press corps who continue to be in danger.

RFE/RL: During the past year, as a result of increased U.S. troop levels under the so-called surge operations, the security situation appears to have improved. But your country has yet to see large numbers of Iraqi refugees returning from neighboring countries where they have fled during the past five years. Does this mean Iraqis as a whole -- and despite the surge operations -- are not yet confident about security in their country?

Yaseen: We hear reports that, generally, [the security situation] is better. But this goes up and down every few months. If you monitor the situation, a few weeks ago we were in a downturn situation [of worsening security.]

RFE/RL: Besides basic security, what else do ordinary Iraqis want to see in their country right now?

Yaseen: They want better services. In fact, they were disappointed that the downfall of dictatorship didn't bring all the good things they were aspiring to -- namely, good services, electricity, water, better transportation. They were suffering from the lack of these services under Saddam. But they continue to suffer from the lack of these services even now, five years after the invasion. So for most ordinary Iraqis who cannot afford, for instance, to buy generators -- they would like to have more electricity. Better services. And I think the multinational forces are now trying to help in this aspect. The government has many programs. But with the continuing lack of security, it is really difficult to concentrate on rebuilding and providing these services as the Iraqis want them.

RFE/RL: What other problems are seen as critical issues for Iraqis today on the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion?

Yaseen: One other important problem that should be addressed is the influx of refugees in all neighboring countries and the increasing number of displaced people internally [within Iraq]. The United Nations and other international organizations have been releasing reports about the increasing figures of this humanitarian problem. It reflects the feeling of most people inside Iraq that they cannot live peacefully. They don't find security. They cannot send their kids to schools. They don't have electricity -- the basic services that I was referring to. The main basic services that they aspire to in order to continue to have a degree of dignity.

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