ABC News' Reporters in Iraq Answer Your Questions

Three years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's government and joined a cheering crowd to pull down a large statue of the deposed dictator, ABC News' reporters in Iraq respond to your questions. Today's answers are from Baghdad Bureau Chief Clark Bentson.

Jo from Kenner, La., asks: What has happened to the museum in Baghdad? Is it protected now? Is it opened?

Answer: The National Museum remains closed to the public. The museum was badly damaged by looters. The staff told us that they need funds to rebuild the museum. The good news is that some of the stolen treasures have been recovered. There are a number of non-governmental organizations that are helping with this. ABC News' NIGHTLINE produced a story last week about an American military member who also has taken up this cause to track down and return stolen Iraqi art.

Sean Strauss from Juneau, Alaska: How does the current Iraqi reconstruction expectations compare to what was expected to be reconstructed in July 2003? How much money did we expect to sink into it, and how much have we actually spent? (This way, we can see what Iraqis are actually getting for our money …)

Answer: I could go and pull all the statistics and numbers from my files, but those would go in and out of most people's heads as fast as I spoke them.

The simple reporting has been that U.S. authorities here in Iraq, whether it be the temporary administrative authority or military, have repeatedly gone back and asked for more and more cash.

There have been repeated stories about misspent money, missing money, illegal contracts, and widespread waste and fraud. Reports show that contractors, Iraqi officials, and private security firms are all suspected of misappropriating funds in some way.

The inability to stop the violence and get a grip on the security situation in most of the country has meant large portions of the money earmarked for rebuilding has been diverted to safety measures.

Efforts are being made to bring Iraq up to the standards it had before the war in some places, and to deal with the years of neglect under the Saddam regime in others. But many reporters who've spent time on the ground here will tell you not enough has been done yet to create a stable functioning society. American politicians and the American public will have to consider the hundreds of billions of dollars spent already. One of the issues that we will continue to report on in the States is that debate, but from our reporting here it is clear that the funds haven't made the difference that many would have expected.

Jeff from Royal Oak, Mich., asks: What is the status of Iraq's oil production? What keeps them from producing oil to contribute to the Iraqi economy and help with the cost of the U.S. involvement?

Answer: From the Iraq Oil Ministry press office we have been told that the state oil company is producing between 1.9 million to 2.1 million barrels of oil a day. Their goal is to achieve between 5 million and 6 million a day by 2010, but the security situation has been difficult. Last year, there were 168 reported attacks against the oil facilities, costing the Iraqis $6.2 billion in lost revenue.

The refinery capacity is currently running at 16 million barrels a day, but officials hope that will increase to 16 million per day by summer.

Elizabeth from North Huntingdon, Pa., asks: How many soldiers have died in Iraq since we went there in the first place?

Answer: There are a few Web sites that you can go and check to get the number updated. One is at the Department of Defense and the other is the Iraqi Coalition Casualties.

Click here for a list of casualties in Iraq.

We at ABCNEWS look at these sites, plus we receive some press releases about fatalities of American service men here from the local Coalition Press Desk. We also check the state and regional wire services where many times families have released statements after being notified by the Pentagon. The numbers vary somewhat because of differences in counting. The current number is as high as 2,370 U.S. service members killed in hostile acts or accidents.

J.J. Marold from Yokosuka, Japan, asks: As Anthony Shadid has written, Arabs in general and Iraqis in particular are a vengeful people. Every slight, no matter how small or unintentional, is a requirement for revenge. Shiite kills Sunni and vice versa and each attack requires revenge. Without increasing the number of troops in Iraq by a large amount, what can the U.S. and British military do to stop this cycle of violence and payback?

Answer: I am not going to generalize about Iraqis, but certainly the increase in the power of militias in recent weeks has led to a spate of sectarian killings and increased fear in Baghdad neighborhoods. But I will add that I have met a Shia family that had their eldest son killed by an American soldier in sad circumstances and there was not the slightest sign of animosity to me as an American; not all believe violence begets violence.

The U.S. and British governments are trying to encourage the Iraqis to move forward with forming a government. The U.S. military and coalition partners are working to complete the training of Iraqi forces which now total about 250,000 personnel.

Those are the priorities of the Americans and others, and once the proper institutions are in place, to have Iraqis face themselves to try and stop the cycle of violence that continues in parts of the country.

Russ from American Fork, Utah, asks: You say that the percentage of people who support the terrorist acts is very small, but if that were true, wouldn't the Iraqis themselves be able to put the insurgency down? There must be a very large segment of the population that at least tacitly supports these terrorist acts.

Answer: The majority of Iraqis do not want the violence that has taken over their country, and do not support the efforts of foreigners coming in and orchestrating the numerous suicide attacks. It cannot be confirmed, but there are reports that Zarqawi has been sidelined by others in the Iraqi insurgent movement for his crimes against civilian targets.

There is tacit support, especially in the Sunni Triangle area, for any efforts to force the coalition troops out, but that does not mean that all Sunnis are taking part in the violence. These people who commit acts of terror blend in. When ABC News arrived back in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam we hired a number of local staff to drive, cook, clean, translate, etc. One of our cooks who by day would translate American recipes into tasty dishes was at night (we found out later) launching mortars at U.S. troops and was subsequently arrested and jailed.

It doesn't take a great number of people to inflict a great deal of damage. Three suicide bombers last week killed 100 people in the Buthana mosque. Most casualties are caused by hidden explosives planted by a few people at night -- that has caused 25 percent of the fatalities against U.S. troops.

Cyndi from Hubert, N.C., asks: How valid are the comparisons to the Vietnam War?

Answer: I would say the comparison is not accurate. The memory of Vietnam is raised mostly in the context of the debate of whether the war is worth fighting in terms of the loss of lives of American soldiers and whether the war can be won.

The number of American service men and women here that have been killed is approaching 2,400 -- not anywhere close to the number killed in the decade-long conflict in Vietnam. That war lasted through all of the 1960s and into the 1970s before Saigon fell. The war to topple Saddam lasted less than one month, although most of the casualties have been in the period since Baghdad fell.

Vietnam was part of the Cold War containment policy; Iraq was attacked because it was believed that it posed a threat from weapons of mass destruction. Now the Bush administration links the efforts here as part of containing the war on terror.

Like Vietnam, the U.S. public is divided over whether American troops should continue their mission here. At this point in time there is no indication that American troops will be leaving any time soon.

But the way that war was fought and how this battle is being conducted are very different, from the strategies and tactics to the technology.

Military historians may be able to draw more comparisons, but from my vantage point as a journalist I think we are talking apples and oranges.

Bob from St. Louis asks: Ambassador Wilson reported that the documents that were cited as proof that Iraq was attempting to buy yellow cake from Niger were forged. I have never heard if anyone was curious about who forged the documents. Would it not be of interest to the media to find out who was behind the forgeries?

Answer: There have been numerous reports done on this story, but most were done outside of Iraq. My understanding is that Italian official stationery was involved, Niger officials could have been bribed, and the CIA. was aware. But I would have to refer you back to the Internet for the specific reporting that was mostly done out of Washington, and has been repeated often in light of the Amb. Wilson leak scandal.

April 11, 2006

John from Charlottesville, Va., asks: I've read and heard that U.S. bases in Iraq are huge and permanent -- is this true? Will U.S. forces in the thousands be stationed in Iraq for 20 or 50 years, as in Germany, Korea and Japan?

Answer:There are large U.S. and coalition facilities set up around the country, the most prominent ones being the group of camps near the airport, which include Camp Victory, the headquarters for the Multi-National Force command here. There is a big base at Balad where many of the supplies are distributed from, and there is a good size air base in Al Asad to the south near Nassiriyah.

The larger bases have taken over existing structures and added mobile housing units or air-conditioned tents to help with housing and office space.

There are also around 76 smaller forward operating bases around the country.

The mission to train Iraqi security forces continues. There are around 250,000 members of the Iraqi security forces now, but that is still not enough to maintain law and order here. President Bush has indicated that troops will be in Iraq at the least until the end of his term, but commanders on the ground here are contemplating some troop reductions in the coming months.

No one has ever stated that U.S. troops are expected to stay here long term, and suggestions last week that any bases are going to remain permanently were shot down recently by both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

Bob from Locust, N.C.: What percentage of Iraqis are now able to live a "normal" life, a life that isn't overly burdened by the effects of America's occupation?

Answer: This past week the State Department issued a stability assessment for internal discussion about how the country was doing on the governance, security, and economic front. Their conclusion was that only the Kurdish areas are relatively stable in all three areas. The Kurds make up about 20 percent of the population of the country.

Baghdad, where more than 25 percent of the population lives, is a city that lives in fear. There is a curfew at night, armed thugs patrol streets brandishing weapons, and violent crimes kill dozens each day. Insurgent violence means any area where crowds gather, like mosques or cafes, is a target for bomb attacks. Improvised Explosive Devices line main highways, mortar attacks into neighborhoods are common.

But life goes on somehow. People who have jobs try and go to work. Schools are open. Hospitals work. There are constant small steps to improve life and the conditions for having some normalcy in life. There is a Children's Theatre show that opens this week.

In the rural areas of southern Iraq, where the violence is less, people are getting on with trying to make a life. Economic conditions make that difficult, but that is not something you would only find in this country.

So, a rough guess is that 33 percent of Iraqis can enjoy a "normal" life as you describe it.

Benjamin Munoz from Las Vegas: Why doesn't the news media tell us the truth about the military casualties that are happening in Iraq. You people lie and underestimate the truth about what is happening. You sit in a very safe green zone and only publish what the government wants the American people to know.

Answer: I am not sure what you think we are not telling you about. Certainly the media has been criticized for a number of things; not telling the good news, not being supportive enough of our troops, not telling enough of the Iraqi side of the story. Any criticism is accepted, because everyone has certain aspects of the story they find more compelling. I can tell you that our reporting is based on the facts as we find them out, and that we are certain that we are reporting truthfully.

We report the military casualties to the best of our abilities. We use press reports from the Coalition press office here in Baghdad. We use the Pentagon weekly release of the names, and we use independent press reports from embedded reporters here and local news agencies in the United States who are often the first to find out from the family when a death has occurred. I oversee the compilation of this material and cut and paste every document that crosses my desk into a book here. I write updated daily e-mails to our broadcasts about those deaths. Yes, there is a discrepancy between official numbers and those of certain media organizations, but that is the difference of 3 or 4 deaths, not hundreds. I consider this one of the most important jobs I do. So if you have information that more than 2,354 U.S. service men and women have died, I would like to know how you got that information.

Iraqi civilian deaths are quite a different matter. There are a number of groups that have tried to catalogue incidents and determine that number, but deaths during the battle are incomplete. Even the daily number of deaths reported due to insurgent violence and crime a not consistent or accurate.

You are wrong that we sit in the Green Zone. ABC NEWS has never been located inside the Green Zone. We remain in a neighborhood in Baghdad and travel out of a compound to report when we can. It is not safe for us to go to all neighborhoods, or for us to linger long on the streets, but we are out reporting. The increase in the number of cell phones has also made it easier to reach Iraqis for comment and clarification.

Our colleagues, Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, were both badly injured while on patrol with Iraqi troops trying to report the story on whether the local security forces are ready to take charge of keeping the peace. Our local cameraman was killed in a firefight covering the fighting in Fallujah. Many journalists are injured or threatened on a regular basis. We don't come here and dish out what we are told to say, hence the criticism we receive from all sides.

Ron Able from Avon Lake, Ohio: What is used as currency in Iraq right now? Is it widely used by all?

Answer: The currency used is the dinar. A new version has been in place for two years now. The old dinars had Saddam's picture on it and it is only used for souvenir collectors now. The value is approximately 1,450 dinars to one U.S. dollar though it tends to fluctuate between 1,200 and 1,600 over a yearlong period.

The Kurdish regions used to use their own dinars, but under the unified government the entire country now widely uses the same local currency. That said, anyone that can be paid in hard currency prefers to have dollars or euros or other fully convertible currencies.

Ramiz from Houston asks: If Iraq is filled with the world's second-largest oil reserves, where does the revenue from Iraq's most-abundant and in-demand natural resource go? Shouldn't Iraq be able to build its infrastructure using oil wealth similar to other oil-producing nations in the Middle East?

Answer: Consistent attacks on the pipelines and refineries have prevented the Iraqis from reaching their target export goals. It is just nearly impossible to protect the miles and miles of pipeline across vast unpopulated spaces. The oil industry, the electricity plants, and the water pumping stations have all been favorite targets of the insurgents.

In the prewar planning it has been reported that the revenues from the oil wealth would go to rebuild the country's infrastructure quickly, but so far that is not even close to happening. The U.S. continues to have to provide billions of dollars to pay for the U.S. troop presence, the rebuilding of the infrastructure and to support the new Iraqi leaders.

When the situation stabilizes and oil revenues begin to come in, the government will have to prevent or avoid the corruption that is widely reported in other oil rich underdeveloped countries.

Deana Rincker from Champaign, Ill., asks: What's life like for the soldiers? I know there is alot of good things going on. What are they?

Answer: Good things that have happened:

Freedom to travel has been restored.

Freedom for Shias to worship on their religious holidays.

No fear that Saddam's henchmen will come and arrest people.

There are also more cell phones and Internet connections and contact with the outside world.

The marshes are being refilled and a way of life for the Marsh Arabs is being restored.

Improvement of salaries and pensions (wages have gone up).

The fighting Kurdish factions have reconciled to form a unified regional government.

There have also been a lot of improvements to try and bring the country back to prewar levels. But most Iraqis don't see that as progress, they see it as rebuilding and many are frustrated by the slow pace and the constant setback due to the security situation.

There are small things that happen every day; simple acts that bring happiness for an individual or group. An ice cream store, a traditional musician performs, a play for children, a new Internet cafe as examples. More than we here in Baghdad ever see or hear about I am sure. Those are what keep the people going.

Kevin from Baytown, Texas, asks: I would like to know the comparison between estimated Iraqi deaths caused by Saddam Hussein, and that of the U.S. invasion itself and the aftermath. If the number passes the number Hussein is estimated to be responsible for, then is the war at least as equally immoral as his actions?

Answer: It is not my position to comment on the morality of actions but to report on what others believe to be the case, and the positions that each side in the conflict takes.

The Pentagon and some news agencies have kept a running tally of the deaths of U.S. troops in the war, which is rapidly approaching the 2,400 mark.

But the Pentagon does not keep track of Iraqi deaths; those from the war to topple Saddam nor from those killed in the violent incidents that have happened since the declaration of the end of hostilities. Some organizations have tried to determine the number of Iraqi deaths. Iraqibodycount.org is one such group. The numbers range in the tens of thousands.

One of the most frustrating parts of this job is trying to get accurate information. The Friday suicide attack on the Buthana Mosque is a good example. We originally were told by three separate officials that it was three mortar attacks that hit the mosque. One official said no fatalities, the other said dozens.

After we learned it was in fact a triple suicide bomb attack, the number ranged from 15 to 100. The Ministries don't communicate well with each other and getting them to release information is hard. There is little concept of the "public's right to know" here in Baghdad.

In fact, last week a high ranking official told me that he knew what had happened and quoted me some statistics. He concluded his remarks by saying he heard it on television. So we try and source as much information as we can, but the numbers are always difficult to match up.

I am not going to make any analysis, but for your information in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds the numbers range from 50,000 to more than 100,000 people put to death. The Kurd and Shia uprising after the defeat of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, and the unknown number who died in Saddam's prisons bring those totals to very high numbers also.

Christine from Albuquerque, N.M.: Has anyone seen Osama bin Laden? I am guessing he must be in Iraq since that is were the troops are. Isn't capturing him the reason why our men and women in the Armed Forces were told they were going to the Middle East?

Answer: If the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden were known I am positive that they would go and get him. It is widely believed that he is in hiding in the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but that is not for certain.

President Bush formed his coalition to attack Saddam because the administration believed that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States and other western targets. There have been (and continue to be) some efforts to link Saddam and Osama's al Qaeda organization. But most reporting continues to find no link between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda, and certainly there is no evidence that Saddam and Osama ever met.

Long before the war in Iraq, the United States maintained a military presence in the Middle East. We have troops and bases in numerous Persian Gulf countries, as well as in the Horn of Africa and Turkey on the fringes of the Middle East. The idea being that a military presence in the Middle East helps stabilize the region as a whole, and protects the supply of oil coming from the region.

John Aguilar-Cruz from New York asks: I would like to know more about the lives of Iraqi Christians.

Answer: There remains a small but cohesive group of Iraqi Christians, mostly in Baghdad or in the north near Mosul. The largest groups are members of the Armenian Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church.

Last year there were some horrific attacks against the Christian churches in Baghdad (as well as the one of the Synagogue). But the Christian refused to be intimidated and after a brief lull have returned to worship, albeit in small numbers.

There have been some Christian missionaries working in Iraq in the past few years, but they are not made to feel very welcome in this 99 percent Muslim country. Three Christian Aid workers were recently released by their kidnappers. The fourth, American Tom Fox, was killed during his captivity -- or died trying to escape. There is some question still as to what happened.

Under Saddam, the Christians were not courted, but neither were they persecuted. Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister, was the most prominent Christian in the last government.

David Alcantara from Del Rio, Texas, asks: What is the president doing to counterattack the IED threat in Iraq?

Answer: From our reporting with the military there have been a number of things the U.S. military has done to try and lessen the threat from IEDs They deploy three models of bomb disposal robots. They have given some of the troops who are returning for duty specialized training in the U.S. to recognize the threat. The Iraqi army is being trained to deal with roadside bombs too, relieving some of the burden from the U.S. troops. But it remains the weapons of choice. More than 575 U.S. troops (around a quarter of all U.S. fatalities) have been from IEDs.

April 9, 2006

Jim from Philadelphia: I'm a Republican with two sons and a daughter-in-law deployed. We never thought Iraq was the direction the war should have gone, would have gotten Saddam on the way out of Afghan and Iran after completely defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda/Iran.

Have to make this clear. I do not like war, it's the worst invention that mankind has ever created.

My question is: BUT why are we fighting nice, with two hands held behind our backs, and what was the admin thinking of bringing our form of government into the Middle East? War is horrible, should be avoided. But since we are in it, let's fight it -- unrelentlessly until we win it. It's the only way to win and to get out of there. And it's the only thing the Arabs understand about war … take out the enemy completely and without a let-up until victory is accomplished.

Answer: Wars may serve a purpose in some instances, but I can't imagine anybody liking war. As a journalist for ABC News now for 20 years, I have covered wars in Somalia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, etc. I have covered violent government protests in Russia, Serbia and Argentina. These conflicts brought changes of government and a high number of casualties. We were at war with Saddam Hussein. That war was declared finished almost three years ago. Now, U.S. forces are engaged in fighting an insurgency at the same time they are trying to stand up this country. The U.S. is trying to build good will with those in the Iraqi community who want to return Iraq to a fully functioning sovereign country. Our reporting from here deals with the difficulties of trying to do just that.

It is impossible for any of the security forces here to know who all the bad guys are. Operations to stamp out insurgent hot beds have been mixed. The Fallujah and Najaf campaigns created widespread unhappiness within the greater Iraqi population which led to a huge anti-American sentiment here. That makes the work of the U.S. even more difficult. When anti-American sentiment goes up, so do attacks against American troops.

American military commanders have to consider all those issues when formulating their plans of action. We have reported from Tal Afar in the north, Fallujah and the Syrian border in the west, and from Sadr City and Najaf in the south over the past years where force has been the way that military commanders went.

In Mosul, Kirkuk and areas of Baghdad, the U.S. military commanders tried to bring the Iraqis into the fold and work with them, offering the carrot over the stick. I remember covering Lt. Gen. David Petraeus when he was in charge of the northern sector of Iraq three years ago. He met regularly with the Iraqis in his district and had an open line of communication. (It is difficult to link, but after Lt. Gen. Petraeus left Mosul, the situation there deteriorated badly making it unsafe for westerners to travel their on their own.)

The stated plan now is for Iraqi troops to take full control of the security situation and let them take the lead in fighting the insurgents. The Ministry of Defense announced this week that 115,000 troops have joined the military -- but there is a long way to go to reach the number that will be able to take control. There are at least 15,000 armed militias who operate outside of the control of the government and they are viewed as significant concern here by the U.S. military.

If you are looking at what is happening in Iraq as the U.S. still being at war, then you must be connecting what is happening here in Iraq with the war on terror. The war on terror is not going to be won in Iraq even if a stable situation does finally come around.

Mandi from Victor, W.Va.: I would like you to do a segment on David Iche and his interview of alias Arizona Weilder. I truly think if you can do stories on "The Da Vinci Code" and those beliefs, you should do a three-hour special on the oil and who gets rich out of this so-called war. It is a plan from years back and if you tell all the truth (like you are trying to do with "DaVinci Code" info) you should tell it all!

Answer: Does Arizona Weilder work in Iraq? He would be a brave man if he did. At the moment no one is getting rich off Iraqi oil since terrorist acts continue to make it difficult to get to the market. One of the goals of a permanent government will be to avoid the temptations of squandering or stealing the revenues of this important resource which is vital to rebuild the country.

Linda Lee Peters from Owings Mills, Md.: How much progress are we making in the war and will the progress continue when our men and women come home? Also, is everything being done for out service people when they come home? Medical, jobs and emotional therapy; at no cost to them? One more question, do our service people have the proper armor and protective clothing etc., to do the best we can to protect them?

Answer: Let me answer what I can from your questions. I can't report with any knowledge about how American service men and women are assisted when they return back to the United States since my reporting is done here in Iraq. I would add that in my observations the U.S. provides excellent field medical care to treat our soldiers injured in Iraq. The facilities, in terms of food and housing in the more developed camps, are very good. (The food at Camp Victory mess hall offers an amazing choice!)

The issue of protective clothing and properly armored vehicles has received a lot of press attention in the past year. The Pentagon insists that they have corrected the problems in that regard, and I have not spoken to any soldier or Marine hear personally that has expressed any concern. There are always improvisations by soldiers to make things better, like developing a better seat for gunners in Humvees. The initiatives are not always welcomed by superior officers, but they are fact of military life.

The debate about when the service men will come home is widely viewed as a Washington political discussion. The officers and their troops that I have spoken with are focused on getting on with their job. Privately I have been told by some that they don't agree with the mission or don't like being here, but that is a very small number.

Progress in the "war"? The war was declared finished almost three years ago. The politicians in Washington have never agreed on whether Iraq was part of the war on terror or part of a different agenda. There have been many reports from a number of news organizations about that.

Progress in making Iraq a fully functioning sovereign government is mixed. Our military leaders continue to work with the Iraqis to take full responsibility for the security of the country, but no one would say they are close to being able to handle that responsibility. Until that time, it is hard to see how U.S. troops could leave Iraq unless some other country or group of countries stepped in to fill that void.

While progress continues on many fronts, the overall perception from the average Iraqi is that there is a long way to go.

Luke Gruber from Pittsburgh: We are in this fight to give the Iraqi people freedom. What new freedoms [do] the Iraqi people have now that Saddam is gone? Please do the research rather than asking Americans in some poll. Americans don't know; we only hear about the trouble from media.

Answer: We are asking people that this weekend on the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. Many have told me privately that freedom means nothing to them in the current situation. But we have dispatched our staff from Kurdistan in north to the Shia areas in the south and will be compiling a full report on this in the coming days.

ABC News, in association with TIME magazine, did a comprehensive report on "Where Thing Stand" back in December. The report looked at a number of social, economic, and political issues with local reporting teams that crossed the country. There was also a very extensive poll done around that time. I would encourage you to look it up on the Internet if you want a comprehensive look at what Iraqis think.

Of course, since then, the sectarian violence has increased dramatically. The stalled formation of a permanent government has fuelled unrest here. Many of my Iraqi friends are looking to temporarily leave to safeguard their families. That says volumes about what freedom exists.

M. Mallard from Rexburg, Idaho: I would like you to report on the good things for once. The military men and women who come home tell us the majority of the Iraqi people like us and support us. As with anything in the U.S. it is the minority that squeals the loudest and the silent majority is never heard.

I don't really have a question just a comment. I and many other Americans are tired of the negative images day after day after day. Who knows, if the positive things were shown day after day after day it may change the course of the insurgency. Just like the human body, if you think you are going to be sick, you are. If you think you will be well you most likely will. A lot of it is mind over matter.

Answer: As I have explained to other readers, there are good things happening in Iraq. The U.S. and coalition forces are doing hard work in some sectors to improve the country. Just this week the U.S. Dept. of Defense put out another fact sheet for journalists to use for the third anniversary of the fall of Saddam.

Included in that release it stated that 47,000 teachers and administrators have been trained; three sewage plants in Baghdad have been rehabilitated, and thirteen power plants have been rehabilitated.

Much of the infrastructure was neglected under Saddam, but much was destroyed in the war to topple him, and even more by insurgent activity afterwards. The fact is that electricity levels are worse than before the war, there has been a massive brain drain of the educated class here, and the security situation is such that the government must maintain an evening curfew.

Reporting the facts does not mean highlighting the negative and ignoring the positive. I can list a number of human interest stories ABC News has done that are positive.

Yet even the State Department this week issued a presidential report saying the strategy here may have been wrong. By pumping money into rebuilding and new construction and neglecting the security aspects the government has squandered billions of dollars on unfinished projects because the cash is diverted to safety.

Two moderate Iraqi papers this weekend had interviews with Baghdad citizens about life three years after the fall of Saddam. One physicist said, "Death has come to us on a dish called freedom." She adds, "the (3) years of freedom have created unknown groups which aim to force out from Iraq its scientific and ideological thinkers (because of the dangerous security situation.)

In the same paper, Falah Hassan, a resident of Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, had a different point of view. In the three years that have passed he said that the economic situation in general, especially for the Iraqi worker, has truly improved in spite of the unstable security situation that had been produced by the circumstances."

Believe me when I say those journalists who spend a great deal of time here, as I do, want Iraq to succeed. We don't report the problems and failures of the country to purposely be negative. In fact, many times when problems are made public it spurs solutions to be found.

Ryan Sharp from Charlotte, N.C.: How does the U.N. help in the rebuilding of Iraq, considering the negative implications of numerous officials named in the Oil-For-Food Program? Will such answers be in an ABCNews.com article with "Editor's Notes" serving as the referee between facts and what exactly ABCNews.com thinks the public deserves to hear?

Answer: The United Nations has had a limited part in the rebuilding of Iraq since its Baghdad office was attacked and U.N. Special Representative Sergio de Mello was killed. They shut down their operations and removed their international staff. They did send assistance to help organize the recent elections, and now they do maintain a small staff in the country.

In regards to the oil-for-food program scandal, the view of the Iraqi government has been to accept whatever international assistance can be provided and they have welcomed the United Nations here. The task of returning this country to a functioning society is their priority.

What is reported from Iraq by ABC News is not what we think our viewers and readers want to hear, but what is happening. I understand the criticism that we have received, but in fact-based reporting we, here, can be confident in what we are doing

April 7, 2006 — Today's answers are from Baghdad Bureau Chief Clark Bentson.

Carl from La Quinta, Calif.: Please balance your reporting and show us the improvements to the area and the gains made with the people. All we ever hear is the negative. There is more to the operation than just bombs, bullets and death.

Answer: Your suggestion that the negative news dominates our coverage is one that many journalists from all organizations hear often.

You are correct that the horrific news dominates the coverage from here. But by its very nature and the frequency of attacks, it is bound too. We don't avoid good news.

There are a number of things happening that demonstrate progress here. The elections would be the shining example. Outside of Baghdad the coalition has had successes in various areas of the reconstruction effort. In regards to ABC News reporting, Bob Woodruff told our viewers about a courageous ice cream store owner that defies odds to stay open, and Elizabeth Vargas showed people a ballet school that still functions. But Iraqis will tell you that things are bad and getting worse -- particularly in Baghdad.

Electricity hours in the capital are the same as three years ago. Petroleum exports are not nearly where they should be. Gas lines are still hours long. Medical conditions are worse; doctors have fled or have been threatened. And imagine being fearful to buy bread, to go to your place of worship, or to let your kids play in a park for fear of being kidnapped.

The U.S. military endures dozens of threatening incidents from insurgents each day. The Iraqi security forces face even more. The coalition forces, led by the United States, some brave nongovernmental organizations (that refuse to be identified because of security fears), and the struggling Iraqi government do work hard to make this country better, or more accurately, try to return Iraq to prewar conditions.

Despite the happiness an individual act can bring like a delivery of soccer balls to a school, a new generator for a village, a clinic for a neighborhood on its own doesn't merit its own story on a news broadcast.

I have been working in Iraq for years now. Last year I spent six months living here. I have great respect for the work the coalition forces are doing and many Iraqi friends. I would love to tell you that it is getting better. But, it is not. As journalists we have to tell you how it is.

Shirley from West Palm Beach, Fla.: Why do some Muslims choose to die for "Satan" rather than spend time with their families, work at making their lives and country better, and just enjoy being alive?

Answer: Muslims believe that if they die doing something in the name of Islam they will be rewarded in the afterlife by God (not Satan) for their act.

But many, many Iraqis (and the same is true in other Muslim countries) condemn these violent acts and particularly the taking of innocent lives.

The percentage of people supporting the terrorist acts that happen each day in Iraq is very small. Iraqis are frightened about what is happening to their country and the daily terrorism that recently reached around 100 deaths a day on average.

My Iraqi friends yearn for the days that they can go to the parks and spend time with their families. They want jobs to support themselves. The number of terrorists in Iraq who carry out these terrifying acts is probably a smaller number than the total of criminals who operate daily in the United States.

John from Anoka, Minn.: When are we going to let the military have a free hand and quit the political correctness war the politicians are trying to fight?

Answer: I am not a military historian, but our military operations and temporary authority in this country ended when the coalition handed back power to the transitional government more than a year ago.

The role of the U.S. (and coalition) troops is to support the Iraqi government to rebuild the country. The U.S. forces have flattened towns in their fight against Saddam loyalists, but they also have been going back in and working to rebuild what they have destroyed. All of this costs a lot of money.

Last year the U.S. forces tried to take on the militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but they realized the risk of fanning the flames. The situation as we have been reporting lately is that the Iraqi government (and there is a lot of suspicion and problems there) has been given the lead to try and rein in the militias. Prime Minister Jafaari said in a recent interview that had been one of his successes to bring the Sadr folks into the fold.

Charles from Brandon, Miss., asks: Would a mass death of American military force a complete withdrawal ? And is al-Sadr gaining more of a following than al-Sistani, in light of the mosque attacks?

Answer: The Americans have suffered more than 2,300 deaths since this conflict began. I wouldn't want to speculate if a single act killed a large number of troops what that would do to public opinion.

I can say that I have met and talked with a number of troops here and while some don't like being here and some don't like Iraq, the vast majority of soldiers, Marines and sailors is just trying to get the job done they were assigned to do, and that is what we have been reporting.

The Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani is the most powerful and popular person in all of Iraq. His influence is far superior to Moqtada al-Sadr. Where al-Sadr is a firebrand who is not afraid of the limelight, the Grand Ayatollah works from the behind the scenes. The Grand Ayatollah is opposed to clerics playing a role in politics, but both clerics have cordial relations with their Shia brothers in Iran. The Grand Ayatollah has not called for a government anything like that of Iran. You are correct though that the Sunnis are very distrustful of closer ties with Iran.

Deanna from Champaign, Ill.: What's life like for the soldiers? I know there is alot of good things going on. What are they? Too much focus on violence -- yes, violence happens. This is a war, but it does not need to be the focus.

Answer: Good things that have happened:

Freedom to travel has been restored.

Freedom for Shias to worship on their religious holidays.

No fear that Saddam's henchmen will come and arrest people. There are more cell phones and Internet connections and contact with the outside world. The marshes are being refilled and a way of life for the Marsh Arabs is being restored. Improvement of salaries and pensions (wages have gone up). The fighting Kurdish factions have reconciled to form a unified regional government.

There have also been a lot of improvements to try and bring the country back to pre-war levels. But most Iraqis don't see that as progress, they see it as rebuilding and many are frustrated by the slow pace and the constant set back due to the security situation.

There are small things that happen every day; simple acts that bring happiness for an individual or group. An ice cream store, a traditional musician performs, a play for children, a new Internet café as examples. More than we here in Baghdad ever see or hear about, I am sure. Those are what keep the people going.

David from Del Rio:

What is the president doing to counterattack the I.E.D. threat in Iraq? Upgraded armor is not enough!

Answer: From our reporting with the military there have been a number of things the U.S. military has done to try and lessen the threat from I.E.D.'s. They deploy three models of bomb disposal robots. They have given some of the troops who are returning for duty specialized training in the United States to recognize the threat. The Iraqi army is being trained to deal with road side bombs too, relieving some of the burden from the U.S. troops. But it remains the weapons of choice. More than 575 U.S. troops (around a quarter of all U.S. fatalities) have been from I.E.D.'s.

Christine from Albuquerque: Has anyone seen Osama Bin Laden? I am guessing he must be in Iraq since that is were the troops are. Isn't capturing him the reason why our men and women in the Armed Forces were told they were going to the Middle East?

Answer: If the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden were known I am positive that they would go and get him. It is widely believed that he is in hiding in the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but that is known not for certain.

President Bush formed his coalition to attack Saddam because the administration believed that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States and other western targets. There have been (and continue to be) some efforts to link Saddam and Osama's al Qaeda organization. But most reporting continues to find no link between the Saddam regime and Al Qaeda, and certainly there is no evidence that Saddam and Osama ever met.

But, remember long before the war in Iraq, the United States has maintained a military presence in the Middle East. We have troops and bases in numerous Persian Gulf countries, as well as in the Horn of Africa and Turkey on the fringes of the Middle East. The idea being that a military presence in the Middle East helps stabilize the region as a whole, and protects the supply of oil coming from the region.

Kevin from Baytown, Texas: I would like to know the comparison between estimated Iraqi deaths caused by Saddam Hussein, and that of the U.S. invasion itself and the aftermath. If the number passes the number Hussein is estimated to be responsible for, then is the war at least as equally immoral as his actions?

Answer: It is not my position to comment on the morality of actions but to report on what others believe to be the case, and the positions that each side in the conflict take.

The Pentagon and some news agencies have kept a running tally of the deaths of U.S. troops in the war, which is rapidly approaching the 2,400 mark.

But the Pentagon does not keep track of Iraqi deaths, neither those from the war to topple Saddam nor those killed in the violent incidents that have happened since the declaration of the end of hostilities. Some organizations have tried to determine the number of Iraqi deaths. Iraqibodycount.org is one such group. The numbers range in the tens of thousands.

One of the most frustrating parts of this job is trying to get accurate information. The Friday suicide attack on the Buthana Mosque is a good example. We originally were told by three separate officials that it was three mortar attacks that hit the mosque. One official said no fatalities, the other said dozens. After we learned it was in fact a triple suicide bomb attack, the number ranged from 15 to 100. The ministries don't communicate well with one another and getting them to release information is hard. There is little concept of the "public's right to know" here in Baghdad. In fact, last week a high-ranking official told me that he knew what had happened and quoted me some statistics. He concluded his remarks by saying he heard it on television. So we endeavor to try and source as much information as we can, but the numbers are always difficult to match up.

I am not going to make any analysis, but for your information in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds the numbers range from 50,000 to more than 100,000 people put to death. The Kurd and Shia uprising after the defeat of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, and the unknown number who died in Saddam's prisons bring those totals to very high numbers also.

Ramiz from Houston: If Iraq is filled with the World's second-largest oil reserves, where does the revenue from Iraq's most abundant and in demand natural resource go? Shouldn't Iraq be able to build its infrastructure using oil wealth similar to other oil-producing nations in the Middle East?

Answer:

Iraq has an abundant amount of natural resources, not only oil and some gas, but minerals too. It could have been an extremely wealthy country if Saddam had not squandered it, and it could be once the security situation is improved.

Consistent attacks on the pipelines and refineries have prevented the Iraqis from reaching their target export goals. It is just nearly impossible to protect the miles and miles of pipeline across vast unpopulated spaces. The oil industry, the electricity plants and the water pumping stations have all been favorite targets of the insurgents.

In the prewar planning it has been reported that the revenues from the oil wealth would go to rebuild the country's infrastructure quickly, but so far that is not even close to happening. The United States continues to have to provide billions of dollars to pay for the U.S. troop presence, the rebuilding of the infrastructure and to support the new Iraqi leaders.

When the situation stabilizes and oil revenues begin to come in, the government will have to prevent or avoid the corruption that is widely reported in other oil rich underdeveloped countries.

Susan from Anchorage, Alaska: I want to know if those Iraqi politicians are going to revalue their currency so that the Iraqi people have some buying power and can get out of the hole they are in financially?

Answer:

The Iraqi currency is the dinar, which currently trades around 1,450 to the U.S. dollar. But it is a currency that is useless outside Iraq. The key to Iraq getting out of its financial hole is for the security situation to be stabilized, which will allow Iraq to capitalize on its vast natural resources.

John from New York: I would like to know more about the lives of Iraqi Christians.

Answer:

There remains a small but cohesive group of Iraqi Christians, mostly in Baghdad or in the north near Mosul. The largest groups are members of the Armenian Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church.

Last year there were some horrific attacks against the Christian churches in Baghdad (as well as the one of the synagogues). But the Christians refused to be intimidated and after a brief lull have returned to worship, albeit in small numbers.

There have been some Christian missionaries working in Iraq in the past few years, but they are not made to feel very welcome in this 99 percent Muslim country. Three Christian aid workers were recently released by their kidnappers. The fourth, American Tom Fox, was killed during his captivity -- or died trying to escape. There is still some question as to what happened.

Under Saddam, the Christians were not courted but neither were they persecuted. Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, was the most prominent Christian in the last government.

William from Rapid City, S.D.: What is the breakdown of country of origin for the suicide bombers?

Answer:

There is no definitive answer to this, as most are not known nor identifiable after an attack. Unlike the suicide attackers who come from the Palestinian territories who leave videos behind, we have not seen many of these goodbye videos in Iraq. I have watched one Iraqi video where the young Iraqi suicide attacker shows us how he is going to push the detonation button, and a few moments later you see his truck slam into an American convoy.

The U.S. military has stated on numerous occasions that the insurgency is full of foreign fighters. There have been reports of insurgents from a number of Middle East and North African countries who have been captured or killed. But as for the identity of suicide bombers in Iraq, only a few have been identified as "home grown" but most of the identities are unknown.