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Iraq: what lies ahead? As many Iraqi people struggle for survival, world leaders shape plans for their future. (News Special).

Since March 19, when U.S.-led forces began a war against Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraqi civilians have had to contend with bombings and bloodshed. For many, the war is simply more misery that the world has rained down on their country. But many others have held out hope that the presence of coalition forces (U.S. and British troops and their allies) will mean freedom from a repressive government.

One New York Times reporter, traveling with the 101st U.S. Army Airborne Division, wrote of an encounter outside Baghdad with an Iraqi child.

The boy, about 6 or 7, approached the reporter and said the two words that were uttered over and over: 'America. Good.' Then he kissed the reporter on the cheek, shook his hand and pointed to the sky, pleading for water."

A Humanitarian Crisis

For more than a week, the boy's town, Najaf, had been without water. Fierce battles there and elsewhere kept the United Nations (UN), Red Cross, and other relief organizations from distributing aid.

"What concerns us most," said a Red Cross official, "are the threats to [the] safety and health of civilians. The two things are closely linked."

Iraqis have already suffered for years because of a UN trade embargo. Meant to punish Hussein's regime, the embargo has reduced the amount of food and medicine available to the Iraqi people.

Prisoners of War

While working to distribute essential supplies to Iraqi civilians, the Red Cross has also visited Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs) held by coalition forces. However, despite negotiations with Iraqi authorities, the Red Cross has had trouble gaining access to coalition soldiers captured by Iraq.

The 1949 Geneva Convention authorizes the Red Cross to visit POWs and monitor their treatment. According to the international agreement, POWs are to be treated humanely during their captivity and are to be released to their homelands once a war ends.

Many Americans were angered when Iraqi television broadcast footage of U.S. POWs in distress. The U.S. soldiers, who were from an Army maintenance unit, were killed or captured after an Iraqi ambush. U.S. special forces later staged a dramatic rescue of one of the captured soldiers, 1 9-year-old Jessica Lynch of Palestine, West Virginia. Although wounded, Lynch is expected to recover completely.

A War on Islam?

The war continues to draw condemnation from Europe, Asia, and several Arab nations. Protesters have staged angry demonstrations in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, and other countries. Although many Arabs distrust Saddam Hussein, they view the war as a battle against Islam.

But, says U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "Coalition forces have taken extraordinary measures to protect innocent civilians in this war, [while] Saddam Hussein has sent death squads to massacre innocent Iraqi Muslims. Indeed, Saddam Hussein has killed more Muslim people than perhaps any living person on the face of the earth."

One Iraqi Muslim now living in the U.S. says that the U.S. had no choice but to attack Hussein's regime. "No one likes wars," she said. "But this is the only option."

The Road Ahead

Bringing democracy to postwar Iraq will be difficult. The Iraqis are divided into several groups that do nor get along (see sidebar).

World leaders must also agree on a way to share the responsibilities of rebuilding the war-torn nation. Experts say that repairing roads, hospitals, schools, oil wells, airports, roads, and other infrastructure will cost more than $100 billion.

France, Russia, and even Britain, the U.S.'s staunchest ally, believe that the UN should play a central role in the rebuilding process. But President George W. Bush and members of his administration disagree.

"Having given life and blood to liberate Iraq," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, "the coalition intends to have a leading role" in rebuilding.

As for the Iraqi people, they will at last have a say in how their government is run.

"The problem was with Saddam Hussein, not with the Iraqi people," said one Shiite leader who returned from exile when the war began. "We want real democracy."

RELATED ARTICLE: Who Are the Iraqis?

In order to establish a democratic government many group of people in Iran must work together (see map) The Iargest groups are

SUNNIS: Mainstream Muslims many of them loyal to Saddam Hussein Sunnis make up most of the Iraqi government and workforce.

SHIITES: The largest non-Sunni group of Muslims in Iraq, They live primarily in the south. The Sunni leadership has suppressed the Shiites economically and politically because of Shiite opposition to Hussein

KURDS: Kurds are a non-Arab ethic group of Sunni Muslims who live in an independent region in northern Iraq Hussein's regime has killed more than 200,000 Kurds. Some Kurdist groups have worked with coalition forces to dismantle local terrorist networks and guerrila bands loyal to the Iraq leader.

The Home Front

With U.S. troops at war in Iraq, watching news reports can be especially tense for military families.

"Whenever the news is on, and they say another soldier was killed, I cross my fingers and pray that it wasn't my brother," says Elizabeth Gruchy, 12.

An eighth-grader in Quincy, Massachusetts, Elizabeth is waiting for the safe return of her brother Tommy, a lance corporal in the Marines. Life at home has changed now that Tommy is not around.

"My house is very quiet," Elizabeth says. "He always used to tell jokes and make everyone laugh."

While she waits for Tommy to return, Elizabeth tries to think about happy memories. Each winter, for example, the two would snowboard in their backyard.

What would Elizabeth say to Tommy if she could talk to him now?

"I would tell him that when he is fighting [he should] not give up, and to know that he will be coming home soon.

To learn more about Elizabeth and other teens whose relatives are stationed in the Gulf region, go to:
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Title Annotation:and related article
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 25, 2003
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