Can the U.S. do any good in Iraq?
There was a time when Iraqis told you some crazy theory about who was behind the latest bombing and you'd just shrug and pass it off. Now, when most Iraqis' theories circle back to the United States as the root of their ills, you can't just ignore them.
There were a couple of conversations I had recently that made me think I needed to find a way to tell this story.
On my way to cover Iraq this time around, I stopped off in Jordan, which about a million Iraqi refugees have made their new home. Many are the reasonably rich who could afford to get out, and many are Sunnis from western Iraq.
One in particular has become a valuable source of insight into the tribes of western Iraq, exactly the sort of people it's almost impossible to meet in Baghdad because their region is so hostile to westerners. He is an important tribal sheik, and until a few months ago, he was optimistic the United States could bring stability to Iraq. But now he thinks that window of opportunity has closed.
He says the Sunnis in the west of Iraq are angry, not just about the continued U.S. presence but that the United States is allowing Shia's, with their ties to Iran, to become dominant. This sheik was once a close ally of the United States, but now when he talks it seems the United States can do nothing right.
My young Iraqi friends in Baghdad tell me they hear the same thing from their buddies -- that the United States is getting it all wrong.
Just over a week ago, I went to interview a middle-class Baghdad family about life three years after the invasion. They had more questions than I did and most came back to one fundamental subject: What is the U.S. doing here? What did the Americans really come for?
Answers that point to democracy or a better life without Saddam just don't cut it with them. They measure their lives in their daily safety, and they don't feel safe. The simple answer for them is to blame is the Unites States. Nothing I could say could get them to believe the United States is here as an honest broker to help fix a bad situation.
It's hard to say what's deep down in people's hearts. Do they really believe life would be better if U.S. troops leave? I guess they know things could get uglier. It's not that they don't hope their lives will improve. They do. They hope for it desperately every day. But each morning bring no respite.
On Sunday events took a turn for the worse. U.S. Special Operations Force advisers mentoring an Iraqi Special Operations force raid on a band of hostage takers and killers got in a gunfight with the men they came to capture.
Before U.S. military spokesmen could release details of the clash in which 16 people were killed, the Al Iraqia television station here, which was set up with U.S. taxpayer dollars, began broadcasting accusations that U.S. troops had killed worshipers inside a mosque. Worse, even after the U.S. military issued a statement to explain what happened, the TV station kept up the accusations.
It was the first time this station turned on the very people who helped get it on the air. If this station is so openly hostile to the United States, it begs the question: What can Americans do?