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In Iraq, festivities and mixed feelings

As US troops shift roles, many locals worry about their lives and livelihoods.

DIYALA PROVINCE, Iraq — At the peak of Iraq’s civil war it was not uncommon for militants to leave killing fields littered with bodies in the open desert outside of Fawal Kamel Sadah’s village of Mufriq. Nearly a month ago, an execution site dating back to that time was discovered, serving as a reminder of the hard times just recently overcome.

But today with security markedly improved, Sadah is still not optimistic about the future. His village still only has limited access to electricity and clean water. With the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. forces from major cities a day away, Sadah, a trash sorter, knows he must look increasingly to his own government for help.

“I don’t think anyone will fix the water or electricity problems,” he said. “Iraqi government officials are thieves.” Asked if he sees any hope for the future, he responded, “Never.”

While there is much excitement about the pending U.S. pullout of major cities on June 30 — it’s has already been declared a national holiday — for many Iraqis there is an undercurrent of concern as their fate becomes increasingly dependent on their own government.

“Literally every home you go into it’s a different answer,” said Capt. Joey Williams, assistant operations officer for the 1-5 Infantry Battalion. Williams has worked with other soldiers and military advisers to track the mood of Iraqis in Diyala as the June 30 deadline has drawn near. “You go into some houses and they’re ready for us to leave and others want us to stay.”

Americans will no longer patrol cities after Tuesday, but they will be able to enter urban areas if Iraqi authorities invite them. They will remain active in rural areas throughout the country.

Located just north of Baghdad, the Diyala Province is home to all three major ethnic groups in Iraq — Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Consequently, during the civil war it was home to some of the worst infighting and there remain lingering political issues with the Kurds in the north of the province.

Although security is increasingly less of an issue, locals have fresh memories of the worst fighting and the periodic attacks that still shake the province. Now that the U.S. is finally showing signs of withdrawing, many residents in Diyala are wondering if their security forces and government can keep the peace.