Almost without exception, Iraqis list security -- or the lack of it -- as their greatest concern.
As we said at the opening, violence since the fall of Saddam Hussein has not only taken thousands of lives -- it has also poisoned many other aspects of life in the country.
It has left some children too afraid to go to school. It has curtailed or halted reconstruction projects. It has turned several parts of the country -- Ramadi, Fallujah, Baqubah and perhaps most ominously, Mosul -- into near no-go areas. And it has made commerce along the roads -- north, south, east and west -- a dangerous business.
As far as political violence is concerned, there's not much to say that hasn't been well-covered in the daily media. For a sense of the toll on the Iraqi people, here are a few statistics:
Iraqi police killed: At least 2,050
Iraqi security forces killed: At least 1,300
Iraqi interpreters working for coalition forces killed: At least 52
Iraqi civilians killed: (Estimates vary widely) Between 15,000 and 35,000
Some analysts note a recent shift from an "ideology-based insurgency" to a "for-profit insurgency."
More likely, the first is fueling the second. The vacuum created by high unemployment has helped insurgent leaders find recruits for violent attacks against coalition forces. Out-of-work young men can make a good day's pay for heaving a grenade at a tank, or firing shots at a convoy.
Then there is plain old criminal activity. Many Iraqis today say they are more afraid of being mugged than being the target of political violence, which is one reason why Iraq is one of the most highly armed countries in the world. "There's an automatic in almost every house," says one security expert.
The ray of hope is in northern Iraq, where a functioning administration and solid legal system have kept the streets relatively safe, and where people measure "better/worse" against a time when many Kurdish people lived in fear of Saddam Hussein's henchmen. As discussed, the exception in the north is Mosul, which has recently suffered a surge in violence.
As for the future, U.S. officials and commanders in the country tout progress in the training of Iraq's security forces, and it is true that their numbers have grown (see figures below). It is also true, however, that these same forces have turned and run from some engagements, that some are believed to have been corrupted, and that some security experts have said that the three-week training program is inadequate.
Facts and Figures
Only 41 percent of Iraqi police personnel are deemed "trained, equipped, and capable." (Source: Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq)
Iraqi police forces have 26 percent of the vehicles they need to do their jobs; 44 percent of the weapons; 31 percent of the body armor; and only 20 percent of the communications infrastructure. (Source: State Department weekly status report on Iraq, Nov. 22, 2004)
Total Iraqi Forces:
December 2003: 162,000 security-related officers
Current: 235,489 security-related officers
Goal: 330,810 security-related officers