Q&A: War crippling Iraq's rebirth
LONDON, England (CNN) -- As well as causing huge numbers of casualties in Iraq, violence is taking its toll on reconstruction efforts and affecting morale.
CNN Correspondent Diana Muriel has just returned to London after spending a month reporting in that country. She spoke with anchor Hala Gorani about what she saw.
Q. We're seeing a psychological war waged by terrorists and hostage-takers. What impact is that having on foreigners and locals in Iraq?
A. There has been a relentless drip drip drip of kidnappings. Many hundreds of Iraqis have been kidnapped by criminal gangs.
Many families who are wealthy enough send their children to live in Jordan for example, but for those who are not wealthy live in fear. In last three weeks, the situation has worsened considerably with the kidnapping of two Americans, who were killed, and a Briton, two French journalists and two Italian aid workers. One of the Italians had been in Iraq since 1997 and was experienced at working in the territory.
There is very much a sense that no one is safe and everyone should be reviewing their security measures.
Q. How is the deteriorating security affecting the country's reconstruction.
A. We came under attack when the U.S. military were showing us a sewage plant in Sadr City, a sprawling slum of northeast Baghdad. American forces have been trying to instigate a series of different projects, whether it's trash collection or cleaning up the water and sewage provision. And to some extent they've been successful in the southern sector of this location.
But in the north, where they've been fighting aggressively with remnants of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, which has moved back from Najaf to this area, they've had to abandon their reconstruction efforts because they're simply not safe for them to operate. In this section, we came under attack from two men who had AK47s inside a car. They had discovered a convoy of Americans -- they'd seen us -- and started firing their weapons as they drove down the street. It was only the quick thinking of the soldiers that destroyed the vehicle and its occupants. It's not safe anywhere.
Americans have changed the emphasis from reconstruction efforts to trying to establish some sort of security so their engineers and soldiers can get on with it. For the contractors it's a much worse situation -- the soldiers are trained to be in those situations -- but the contractors often don't have security people. It's very dangerous and difficult for them.
Q. What is the morale of U.S., UK and Italian troops like?
A. I was surprised by how positive they sounded. Obviously it's higher among those who were about to leave than among those who had just arrived and were in the thick of it. Many have to be there for many months, and often over a year. Morale was surprisingly high among some of those I spoke to, but it's very exhausting for them. All night long, there are mortars and rocket-propelled grenades going off. Every night the aggressive patrols are coming under fire. Friends and colleagues are killed. They know they're under attack.
Q. Are they critical of their governments for sending them into this chaotic situation, or do they feel supportive of their government because they believe they are fighting the war on terror, as U.S. President George W. Bush as put it so many times?
A. They are professional soldiers and very careful about what they say to a journalist about their own political views. But I got a sense that there is a belief that they're doing the right thing. They realize it's not going to be easy, and it's getting more difficult. But they feel that what they're trying to establish is a good thing. There is a commitment to keep going, certainly among senior officers but also to a certain extent among the men. They're tired, exhausted and fed up with it for sure, but they seem to be determined to keep going.
Q. Are the local Iraqis psychologically scarred by the violence?
A. One lieutenant-colonel told me that 90 percent of the locals wanted them to be there but the 10 percent who didn't are actively preventing them from getting on with their projects. The people, he said, didn't have the "moral courage" to prevent that 10 percent taking control. He was talking specifically about Sadr City. But these are people who have endured 35 years of ruthless dictatorship. They don't approach life like you or I would. And when you're told by a militiaman with an AK47 that he will kill your son unless you allow your house to be used by insurgents, you aren't going to argue with him. They will allow themselves to be pushed around. Hearts and minds have got to be won over again.