Chaos, Terrorism And Hope In Iraq

Iraqi Shiite Muslims march in support of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, carrying images of him at a rally in Najaf, southern Iraq, Friday, Feb. 20, 2004. Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite leader, who had disrupted the American plan for the handover by calling for a direct vote, reportedly has told the U.N. he would accept only a short delay in elections and argued that any non-elected administration must have strictly limited powers.
From the ground and air war aimed at the downfall of Saddam Hussein to the liberation from an era of fear, to war again - against enemies unknown.

Iraqis, and their American liberators, have lived with chaos, terrorism and hope since coalition forces ousted Saddam Hussein.

"I think Iraq is a much better place now than it was under Saddam," Iraq Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi told CBS' Dan Rather.

"A safer place -- in what way?" asked Rather.

"Under Saddam of course they did not have suicide bombers, we have suicide bombers but that is really mainly the fault of outsiders," Pachachi said.

Attacks on American troops are dwindling and with them Vietnam analogies. Fewer U.S. casualties are due, in part, to Iraq's newly created security forces, which now outnumber coalition troops on the streets.

But casualties are rising among Iraqis who are easier targets for terrorists. Ambassador Paul Bremer, America's top diplomat here, is convinced that Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist, is behind some of the atrocities.

"There is no question that al Qaeda has been active here,'' said Bremer.

"Zarqawi has been in Iraq recently. He has been operating in Iraq. We believe he is still in Iraq. We know what his strategy is because he laid it out in a secret letter that we were fortunate enough to capture," Bremer explained.

Mass casualty attacks are aimed at creating a Sunni-Shiite civil war here, according to Ambassador Bremer. He also believes that neighboring Shiite Iran has an agitating hand in Iraqi affairs.

"You said that Iran had not been particularly helpful in the southern part of the country. What do you mean?" Rather asked.

"Well they've had, um, they've had elements of their government that have been active in an unhelpful way in the country and we think that should stop," Bremer replied.

Born in Iran, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani is the most powerful man in Iraq. At 73 he's revered by many of Iraq's 15 million Shiites. He has never met with Ambassador Bremer. He holds the key to the future of Iraq. His religious influence, combined with his secular power, has stalled American plans for democracy in Iraq twice.

But despite these initial hurdles Ambassador Bremer sees a new vibrant Iraq. Oil production and electricity generation has surpassed pre-war levels. There are over a million cars on the road.

"The economy is now moving. The white goods are being sold; the shops are there; lots of cars as you pointed out. May be too many -- traffic jams -- that's a good sign," Bremer said.

No doubt there will be jams ahead on Iraq's road to democracy, but there are many postive things happening in Iraq, reports Rather.

Getting the interim constitution today is an important one.

July 1, however, Ambassador Bremer is scheduled to leave.

Who leads Iraq after that and how, no one is saying. Because no one knows.