The Shiite pilgrims arrive in crowded buses and are dropped off just outside the shrine’s gate. They walk down a narrow path patrolled by security guards and lined with tall cement walls to pray at the al-Askari mosque, the resting place of two of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam.
The mosque, which once had a golden dome that sparkled in this city of gray, looks like a construction site, with piles of debris and scaffolding — remnants of the February 2006 bombing that unleashed a brutal civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.
The thousands of visitors who come each week, mostly Iranians and Iraqis from southern provinces, don’t venture from the tear-shaped exclusion zone. Just outside, stores and hotels that once thrived on tourism make up a battle-scarred ghost town. City leaders, merchants and residents have grown deeply resentful at being cut off from the economic heart of the city. “We feel like we’re living in a big prison,” said merchant Ghazan Hamid, whose shop lies just beyond the wall protecting the mosque.
Samarra, where the U.S. military closed a key base this fall, in many ways embodies the Iraq that American forces are leaving behind as the troop drawdown begins in earnest. The fighting here, as in much of the country, has ebbed. Iraqi troops are indisputably in charge. Sectarian and ethnic divisions remain deep, but political feuds and fights for power are, by and large, not being waged on the street. [continued…]
Iraq’s Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country was conspicuously absent.
That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the country and restarting the economy.
Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that exhibited their wares, “there are two or three American participants, but I can’t remember their names,” said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of Iraq’s state fair company. A pair of missiles atop a ceremonial gateway to the fairgrounds recalled an era when Saddam Hussein had pretensions, if not weapons, of mass destruction.
The trade fair is a telling indication of an uncomfortable truth: America’s war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business. [continued…]