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Iraq Transition

Great strides and challenges for Iraq

Government marks first year of sovereignty

By Joe Sterling
CNN

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An Iraqi shows his ink-stained finger after voting in the January 30 elections.

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BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The Iraqi government has made key strides in the year since it regained sovereignty from the United States -- holding historic elections in January and preparing war crimes cases against Saddam Hussein and some of his aides.

But the fledgling country has seen no let up in the insurgency, which has targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces and terrorized civilians with almost daily bombings, drive-by shootings, kidnappings and assassinations.

Iraq's growing security forces still must rely on constant backing from American soldiers and Marines in Iraq to take on the Saddam loyalists, foreign fighters and anti-U.S. Iraqis.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched major operations against the insurgency across the country. They neutralized Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army in Najaf and in Baghdad's Sadr City last summer. They destroyed the insurgents' base in Falluja in a fierce November invasion and conducted several raids and operations in western Iraq in recent months to stem infiltration by foreign fighters over the Syrian border.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, interviewed on Wolf Blitzer's "Late Edition" on CNN, acknowledged the challenge of confronting daily violence, but said that the formation of the government through a free election signals hope.

"We face tremendous difficulties in forming the government recently, and we managed to overcome them, so I believe we can overcome the obstacles ahead of us.

"Similarly, we had difficulties in doing the elections. They were real threats, yet people responded to that challenge and actually stepped out, voted, despite all the threats."

Saddam faces justice

On June 28, 2004, the U.S.-led coalition gave Iraq sovereignty, transferring powers to an Iraqi interim government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. That ended the control of Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country after the U.S.-war began in March 2003.

One of the new government's first actions was to start proceedings against Saddam Hussein, who was captured in December 2003. He appeared before an Iraqi judge in the first phase of the investigative process against him and 11 prominent figures in the former Baathist regime. (Full story)

Others include Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister who often defended the regime on the international stage, and Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his alleged involvement in using chemical weapons on Iraqi civilians.

In early June, video of Saddam and members of the regime's officials showed investigating magistrates questioning them.

An Iraqi Special Tribunal statement said Saddam was questioned about an alleged massacre at Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, where at least 50 Iraqis were killed in 1982 after an attempt to assassinate Saddam.

Government gets going

The handpicked interim government worked to set the stage for national elections, a process that seemed perilous because of the violent instability throughout much of the country. (Timeline)

Preparations got under way for the elections with the United Nations providing significant advice for the nationwide event, and the Pentagon announced an increase of its forces in Iraq in the election run-up.

In the autumn, two harbingers of the current Sunni Arab displeasure with the political process occurred: The Iraqi Islamic Party said it was withdrawing from the interim government and the Muslim Scholars Association called for an election boycott.

Nevertheless, election campaigning began in mid-December, despite insurgents warning people not to go to the polls.

On January 30, 8 million Iraqis -- mostly Shiite Arabs, Kurds and the smaller constituencies of Turkmens and Christians -- braved the threat of insurgent violence and voted on membership in the National Assembly.

The ink-stained finger -- Iraqis dipped their finger in ink to show they had voted -- became a symbol of the country's new freedom.

The dramatic turnout was a boon for the U.S.-led coalition and the country, an example that Iraqis want to shed the vestiges of dictatorship and embrace democracy.

Two weeks later, the election results were announced: The United Iraqi Alliance bloc won 140 seats, the Kurdistan Alliance won 75 seats and Ayad Allawi's list won 40 seats.

Efforts to bring Sunni Arabs into the political process delayed the formation of the new government, a prolonged three-month slog. But that was achieved and the assembly then got down to its top purpose -- writing a new, permanent constitution. (Full story)

According to the transitional administrative law, a coalition-prepared blueprint and timeline, the document must be prepared by August 15 and put to the voters in a referendum by October 15. If the constitution is approved, then elections for a permanent governmental structure under the new law will occur at the end of the year.

Iraqi officials have said they hope to meet these deadlines.

Kidnappers strike fear

The foreign fighters and homegrown Saddam loyalists waged a continuous fight against Iraq and the coalition with a lethal mixture of kidnappings, suicide attacks, roadside bombings and ambushes.

The flurry of foreign-national kidnappings created anger, terror and fear across the globe.

Among those captured and killed were contractors Jack Hensley, Kenneth Bigley and Eugene Armstrong, CARE official Margaret Hassan and Bulgarians Ivailo Kepov and Georgi Lazov.

Some were freed, including Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, French journalist Florence Aubenas and Romanian journalists Marie-Jean Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci and Eduard Ovidiu Ohanesian. (Full story)

Australian contractor Douglas Wood was rescued in June during a raid.

Some remain missing, such as U.S. contractor Jeffrey Ake.

The kidnappings took their toll diplomatically and in the hearts and minds of citizens. The Philippines, faced with the possible killing last summer of a kidnapped citizen who worked as a trucker in Iraq, said it was withdrawing troops.

Although videos of kidnap victims were aired on the popular Arabic-language TV network, Al-Jazeera, and other networks, the Internet became the medium of choice for insurgents attempting to propagate their messages and claims of responsibilities for various militant groups.

One of the actions taken by the interim government was to shut down Al-Jazeera's operations in Iraq.

From the moment power was transferred to Iraq, the insurgent push has been tenacious and cagey, a challenge for the equally fierce and determined U.S.-led military as it tries to establish law and order in the Iraq.

Daily attacks besiege U.S., Iraqi forces

This 12-month struggle resembles the middle of a 15-round brawling prizefight with lights at the end of the tunnel in sight.

The attacks are too numerous to list, but reading one after the other is a shocking reminder of the daily brutality in Iraq.

Some brazen killings stand out.

A father and son -- a judge and a lawyer with the special war crimes tribunal -- were slain. A car bomb killed dozens at a funeral of a Kurdish official. A female assembly member was shot dead at her house. Bombers killed dozens in suicide attacks in Baghdad, Irbil and in Suwayra.

On December 21, insurgents attacked a mess tent on a U.S. military base in Mosul and killed more than 20 people, including 19 soldiers.

On February 28 in Hilla south of Baghdad, a car bomb killed 122 people, the most deadly single attack since the war began.

Striking back

During this same time and into the autumn, U.S. and Iraqi attention turned toward Falluja, where the insurgent network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established a base. Airstrikes were launched.

In early November, the United States and Iraq launched a major offensive on insurgents in Falluja and within days destroyed their presence in the city.

It was thought, however, that those insurgents who were able to slip out of the town took refuge in places like Mosul and Tal Afar, in northern Iraq, and the northern Babil towns south of Baghdad that comprise the so-called Triangle of Death, named because of the insurgent and criminal activity there.

More than 800 American forces have been killed since July 1, 2004, and thousands have been wounded. During the same period, the Brookings Institution estimated 2,000 Iraqi soldiers and police were killed.

It is hard to get a handle on the number of civilians killed in the fighting, but estimates by various government and nongovernmental groups range in the many thousands.

Throughout the year, members of al-Zarqawi's network have been detained, but the man, with a $25 million bounty on his head, has eluded authorities on his trail.

Fighting forces

The insurgent fighters regularly target Iraqi security forces and recruits, as well as members of the government.

U.S. and Iraqi officials stress that such attacks fail to deter the recruits who sorely need jobs in the country, which still remains mired in disrepair and unemployment, according to a searing U.N. report on living conditions.

Another facet of the violence is its sectarian element. The insurgents -- regarded as largely Sunni Arab -- have targeted Shiite Arabs and Kurds. In turn, Iraqi political movements of all stripes have had their own militias, a development that has been frowned upon since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The United States and Iraqi authorities have opposed such militias and have backed the establishment of a national military instead. But lately Iraqi government officials have voiced support for the security efforts of such groups with a militia tradition, such as the Shiite Badr Organization and the Kurdish peshmerga.

However, the Americans and Iraqis have stressed that the ultimate goal for Iraq is to develop a well-trained force of soldiers and police to handle security independently. The number of U.S. forces in the conflict is about 138,000 and the number of Iraqi security forces is about 169,000.

The estimated strength from other nations totals 23,000, Brookings said. This includes Britain, South Korea, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Japan, Denmark, Bulgaria and 16 others nations, it says.

They are tangling with an insurgency that had an estimated strength of 16,000 as of April, Brookings Institution said, and the number of foreign fighters in the insurgency was estimated to be 1,000 as of May.

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