Ho-Hum Anniversary In Iraq

An Iraqi Shiite militia member holds his AK-47 in front of the flower-strewn gate where a terrorist attack left scores dead in front of the Imam Kazem holy shrine in Baghdad on March 6, 2004.
The first anniversary of the start of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein was a day like many others in Iraq: a mortar attack in a northern city, an attempt to kill a politician, and news of a U.S. Marine cut down by rebel fire.

Overall, Saturday was average by recent Iraqi standards.

The millions of Iraqis who exulted in Saddam's downfall did not publicly celebrate the day, nor were there street protests from those who enjoyed his patronage - partly because public gatherings are vulnerable to suicide attackers, car bombs, shootings and other violence. Also, even those who opposed Saddam are uncomfortable with the invasion and extended occupation of Iraq by foreign armies, observers say.

Many Iraqis fear daily they will be caught in the crossfire of the conflict between U.S. forces and anti-American insurgents and other shadowy assailants, and said they felt more insecure now than they did before the United States launched military strikes.

Hours after U.S. Marines officially took control Saturday from the 82nd Airborne Division of a swath of territory west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said rebels had killed a U.S. Marine in the area, Anbar province, a day earlier. Two Marines also died in combat Wednesday in Anbar, which includes parts of the so-called Sunni Triangle where guerrilla attacks have been fierce.

At the handover ceremony at a U.S. base in Ramadi, Marine commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis issued a warning to insurgents.

"We expect to be the best friends to Iraqis who are trying to put their country back together. And for those who want to fight, for the foreign fighters and former regime people, they'll regret it. We're going to handle them very roughly," he said.

A total of 568 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to figures released Friday by the Department of Defense. Of those 385 died as a result of hostile action, and 183 died of non-hostile causes.

In other developments:

  • Large antiwar protests in cities in several continents marked the one-year anniversary of the start of the war.
  • A U.S. military helicopter was shot down Friday by rebels near the town of Amariya, west of Baghdad. The two crewmen escaped injury and the helicopter was recovered, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of U.S. military operations, said Saturday.
  • Insurgents fired four mortar rounds at the offices of a Kurdish political party in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday but missed and killed a driver on a nearby street, Iraqi police said. Guards fired at the rebels; three party members and a passer-by were wounded in the shootout.
  • In the northern city of Kirkuk, Iraqi police said Subhi Saber a Turkman politician, survived an assassination attempt Saturday. Assailants opened fire on Saber's car, injuring his driver, but the politician escaped.
  • The U.S. Army said Saturday that a 1st Infantry Division soldier was fatally electrocuted while working on communication equipment at a military base in Baqouba, north of Baghdad.
  • Near Taji, also north of the capital, one soldier died and two were wounded after their vehicle rolled over Thursday, the military said Saturday.
  • The U.S. military said it charged six U.S. military police officers Saturday over the alleged abuse in November and December of about 20 Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.
  • U.S. officials are exploring ways to persuade Spain to keep its troops in Iraq, including the possibility of a separate United Nations command to oversee international forces, a State Department official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Under that scenario, the official said, the U.S. military would continue to lead its own soldiers, while troops from Spain and other countries could be led by the U.N.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday said he is sending a U.N. team back to Iraq in response to an Iraqi request for help in organizing the political transition and elections, but security concerns are still a constraint.
  • Spain's Socialists reiterated Saturday its intention to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
  • Annan is seeking Security Council approval for an independent investigation into alleged corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program.

    President Bush marked the anniversary of the beginning of the war in a speech Friday at the White House, declaring that the fall of Saddam removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East.

    But some Baghdad residents said Iraqis were less safe.

    "The security situation is worse than one year ago. I cannot take my family outside at nights. When I walk in the street, I do not know when a bomb is going to explode and kill me," said Ammar Samir, 26, who works for a private trading company. "The Americans have failed to provide security and prosperity to the Iraqi people."

    The top administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, marked the anniversary by noting the ways the coalition had improved the lives of Iraqis over the past year: the electricity supply was back to prewar levels and climbing, unemployment was down and per capita income had risen by 33 percent this year.

    He said the coalition had completed thousands of projects such as generator installations and school refurbishment but admitted that attacks were interfering with big, capital-intensive projects because firms have to spend more on security.

    The political process has advanced, with the U.S.-appointed Governing Council signing an interim constitution ahead of the handover of power to Iraqis on June 30. But many details of Iraq's political transition have yet to be mapped out, and there are fears that sectarian divisions could disrupt the process.