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Car Bombs and Suicide Attacks in Baghdad Mark 10th Anniversary of U.S. Invasion

March 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion into Iraq, Baghdad suffered a day of bombs and bloodshed. Judy Woodruff offers an update on the new violence, as well as a recap of the conflict that began a decade ago, then talks to Jane Arraf of Al Jazeera in Baghdad for more on day-to-day life and how Iraqis regard the war today.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: A full decade after the Iraq war began, the violence has not abated. Today was the bloodiest day this year, as insurgents staged multiple attacks. A high-level minister was assassinated and dozens more died.

A warning: Our story contains some graphic images.

Thick black smoke rose above the Sadr City district in Baghdad, where a car bomb went off today in one of several coordinated attacks to rock the Iraqi capital; 65 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. In another instance, an explosion ripped through a popular market near Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

MAN: There is a checkpoint at the main gate, but it is in vain. They don’t search anybody. The car arrived and parked here, exploding and killing people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The violence targeted mainly Shiite neighborhoods and highlighted the sectarian strife that still exists 10 years to the day since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, United States: At hour, American coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It started with a wave of Shock and Awe airstrikes. Explosions lit up the night sky in Baghdad. Three weeks later, the capital fell, as residents cheered the arrival of American and coalition forces.

Marines toppled a statue of ousted leader Saddam Hussein, one of the first iconic images of the conflict. Another iconic image from the war came in May of 2003, when President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq while aboard the U.S. Abraham Lincoln.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it would be more than eight years before the last U.S. military convoys rolled out of Iraq.

SOLDIER: I’m happy. I’m happy to be out of Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nearly 4,500 Americans were killed during the war that spanned close to nine years, along with more than 100,000 Iraqis. Some of the conflict’s bloodiest battles were fought in Fallujah when U.S. forces faced off against insurgents and four U.S. contractors were attacked. Their charred bodies were dragged through the streets.

In Dec. 2003, Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. troops, who found him hiding in an underground hole. He would be tried by an Iraqi tribunal and found guilty of crimes against humanity and was executed in December 2006. What wasn’t found in Iraq were active weapons of mass destructions, or WMDs, something many in the Bush administration had stated Saddam Hussein had at his disposal.

President Bush addressed the issue during a 2005 speech.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who didn’t support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A report released this month put the cost of Iraq’s reconstruction at more than $60 billion dollars so far, that on top of $1.7 trillion in estimated war costs, according to a recent study by Brown University.

Today, some Baghdad residents spoke of little progress and expressed anger at the United States.

WOMAN: The Americans didn’t do anything when they came to Iraq. They granted freedom to Iraq? What freedom are they talking about?

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, President Obama issued a statement marking the anniversary, saying he joined in paying tribute to all who served and sacrificed in one of our nation’s longest wars.

Earlier, I spoke to Jane Arraf, a reporter for Al Jazeera English and The Christian Science Monitor about today’s violence in Baghdad and life in post-war Iraq.

Welcome, Jane.

What is known about who or what’s behind today’s car bombings and suicide attacks?

JANE ARRAF, Al Jazeera: Well, the finger, Judy, is always pointed at al-Qaida and al-Qaida-linked groups, because they do — the attacks do have the fingerprints of that sort of organization.

It was an extremely coordinated attack, as you saw, more than 20 bombs, many of them car bombs. And then for good measure, they threw in some suicide bombers, as well as sticky bombs on the bottoms of buses, huge variety of targets, most of them Shia targets or security targets. And that fits in with what al-Qaida has been doing, trying to destabilize the country by showing people that its security forces can’t protect them and trying to stir up the sectarian war that this country has just recently emerged from.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How unusual is it to have so many attacks on the same day?

JANE ARRAF: It was a bad day. That is certainly indisputable.

But I was at a university during the day talking to university students and they were actually holding a party because they were graduating. You could see the smoke rising and you could hear gunfire and these are people, young Iraqis who grew up in war. And they were so unfazed by it. They just went on with their day. They went to classes. They went to their ceremonies.

So people here, Iraqis have learned to live with this, which is a very sad comment. But, at the same time, what happened today did scare people a little bit. I think probably you will see fewer people on the streets in the next couple of days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane, tell us what are conditions like in Iraq now? What is day-to-day life like for ordinary Iraqis?

JANE ARRAF: It’s a lot better than it was a few years ago.

But I think we have to keep mentioning, that was such a low bar, because we always say it’s a lot better than it was a few years ago. Well, a few years ago, there were bodies in the streets. A few years ago, you literally when you left your house didn’t know whether you would return home.

A few years ago, there are families who lost people whose bodies they never found. So there’s a bit of a sense of relief that that is not happening. And because it was so bad, people kind of get on with their lives here. If you go down one of the main streets, one of the main commercial streets at night, you probably will have to wait to get into a restaurant.

There’s so many families going out. But, at the same time, you can go into places here. A couple of days ago, I went and saw someone on the edge of town in a neighborhood where there is hardly any electricity.

There’s no sewage system. The kids don’t go to school because there’s no school there. And that’s not that unusual.

This is potentially a hugely rich country, but you wouldn’t know it when you walk through the streets. Somehow, around the edges, people have found a way to make it seem as if some semblance of normal life goes on, but they realize that this isn’t normal. They realize that it could be so much better.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Jane, what are people saying there about the war?

JANE ARRAF: That’s such a question — that’s such an individual question.

And the answer to that — and I ask it constantly with that underlying question, was it worth it? And the answer to that depends on what happened to each person, what happened to each family. There are a lot of people here, probably a majority of people, who are still very glad that Saddam Hussein is gone. But what I have found increasingly in covering this country over the years and being here day to day is that people are more and more saying, yes, it’s great he was gone, but maybe we would have put up with him for the sake of the certainty of knowing that our kids would be OK when they go to school.

Really, what happened was that people traded the oppression that they were under for freedom in a sense, but that freedom came with a lot of danger that they face every day. There was no fuss made about the anniversary. People here don’t really commemorate anniversaries like that, unless they’re politicians.

But when people think back on the last 10 years, it is a history of loss, of sadness. Young people are in a bit of a different frame of mind. They didn’t lose quite so much. And when you talk to them, they’re looking forward towards the future and they’re generally more optimistic. It’s their elders that look back over the past 10 years, over the past few decades and think of the tragedy of what this country could have been that it wasn’t and still isn’t — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane Arraf joining us from Baghdad, thank you.

JANE ARRAF: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: We will come back to the legacy of the Iraq war at the end of the program tonight.