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In Iraq, festivities and mixed feelings

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

“Everybody says that when the Americans leave the security is going to change. It’s going to get worse,” said Mohamed Rasheed Abu Thaya, a shop owner in Diyala Province. “The Iraqi security forces aren’t ready even though security is good now.”

Among locals, the Iraqi military and police have suffered from a bad reputation. At the peak of the violence, masked death squads often arrived in villages wearing Iraqi military or police uniforms, sometimes even driving official vehicles. Whether these attacks were carried out by security forces or militants who had stolen their uniforms and equipment, they sowed the seeds of mistrust among the population.

Additionally, Iraqi security forces developed a reputation for damaging residents' homes during routine searches and many view them as corrupt and ineffectual.

However, within the last several years, the Iraqi security forces have grown considerably as a professional fighting force. They have received much more training and experience and grown substantially in size — police and military forces combined are now about 600,000 strong.

Now, in many regards, one of their biggest challenges will be proving themselves to the Iraqi people.

“Some people are saying that we can’t control our cities without Coalition Forces, but we’ve got to prove to them that we can control our cities,” said Iraqi Army Capt. Thamer Ahmed Mohamed, a commander in Diyala.

Indeed, many residents are ready for their military to take the helm, but they still want Coalition Forces as backup.

“I think it’s good that Americans are leaving the cities, so the Iraqi Army and police will take more responsibility, but if you leave Iraq altogether the security will get much worse,” said Khalif Saleh, a retired soldier in Diyala.

Still security improvements have also shone light on many deficiencies in Iraq that have long been an issue but took a back seat at the peak of the nation’s violence.

In many government offices, there has been a marked increase in corruption since the fall of Saddam Hussein, said some residents. Now carrying out any number of bureaucratic chores, such as getting the necessary permits to purchase a house, can require Iraqis to bribe up to 20 officials in some cases.

“Corruption is very bad in the government. I have to give them money to get anything done,” said Hamra Imbara, who used to work in the Daughters of Iraq community policing program, but was recently laid off. She adds that the Americans often helped her with certain civil issues. “Who will listen to our complaints?” 

More on the Iraqi withdrawal:

Iraq fails the democracy taste test

Long, hot summer looms in Iraq

Obama's speech: The view from Baghdad