comscore As Britain takes stock of Iraq War, Iraqis grimly assess its aftermath
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As Britain takes stock of Iraq War, Iraqis grimly assess its aftermath

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By Falih Hassan and Tim Arango

New York Times

BAGHDAD >> As Britain on Wednesday looked back on its decision to go to war in Iraq 13 years ago, Thamir al-Shemmary went to the funeral of his brother and two nephews, killed over the weekend in Baghdad’s deadliest terrorist attack since that war began.

Shemmary had a question for Tony Blair, the former British prime minister whose decision to join the invasion came under critique in the Chilcot Report, the exhaustive war inquiry released in London on Wednesday.

“Who will compensate me for the loss of my brother and his children?” he said. “Trust me, I am bleeding from the inside.”

With Britain consumed with relitigating the familiar history of the Iraq War — the false intelligence assessments, the failure to plan for after the invasion — Iraq is consumed with the consequences of that history.

Wednesday should have been a joyous celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday after the holy month of Ramadan that is normally filled with family gatherings, games, sweets and lavish meals.

But many Eid celebrations were canceled, replaced by funerals, prayer services and candlelight vigils for the victims of Sunday morning’s devastating car bombing in a busy central Baghdad district full of cafes and stores. The Health Ministry on Tuesday said at least 250 people were killed.

Widen the lens more broadly over Iraq, and a panorama of suffering that most Iraqis attribute to bad decisions by the United States and Britain comes into view: more than 3 million people displaced from their homes because of fighting with the Islamic State; cities in rubble; a barely functional government facing a severe financial crisis; Iranian-controlled militias that seem more powerful than the Iraqi army.

Many Iraqis took all that into account as they watched the debate and news reports over the Chilcot Report.

Some Iraqis took a modicum of satisfaction in seeing Blair, who made a statement on Wednesday in which he said he took “full responsibility” for any mistakes related to the war, called to account for his decisions.

“Today I feel so happy,” said Salim Hamid, 44. “It is like a wedding to me to see the person who destroyed my country being nervous because of being asked a lot of questions.”

Hamid said he wished he could throw a shoe at Blair — a grievous insult in the Arab world — just as an Iraqi journalist did to President George W. Bush when he visited Baghdad in 2008.

Some noted that the number of British war deaths, 179, was distinctly fewer than the number of Iraqis killed on Sunday alone.

Haidar Sumeri, an Iraqi analyst who made the comparison on Twitter, wrote in an email, “It highlights the degree of irrelevance of Iraqi suffering in the West.”

He continued: “People see another bombing in Baghdad, roll their eyes, make a comment about how bad it is there and move on. No one really likes to think about how we got here, how we can change the situation or learn from what happened so it doesn’t happen again.”

It is not that many Iraqis did not welcome the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and his cruelty.

Many reflect back, saying that before the war they were hopeful and enthusiastic about the prospect of change. But now, they feel betrayed by the mismanagement of the occupation, and the leaders who came after.

“We were expecting to be the best state in the world and now we have become the worst state in the world,” said Hussam Yohana, 30, who lost his cousin, Maher, a perfume shop owner, in Sunday’s bombing.

Many Iraqis feel that it was not the war itself that was the main problem, but the Iraqis who came to power with the West’s support and have since been widely blamed for the corruption and sectarianism afflicting the country.

“Why do we always blame the West or Tony Blair or Bush for our mistakes?” said Mahmoud Abdullah Yousif, 56. “Why do we not say that the defect is in us, not in Blair or Bush?”

Still, Yousif went on to rail against Blair and Bush, saying they supported former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki’s tenure is now widely viewed as a disastrous one for abusing and alienating Iraq’s Sunni minority, and helping create a base of support for the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State.

“Yes, Blair and Bush destroyed Iraq, but Maliki eliminated Iraq. And I say to Bush, ‘May God take revenge on you because you handed over the country to traitors and thieves and agents!’” Yousif said.

In taking responsibility for mistakes in the lead-up to the war and its aftermath, Blair on Wednesday also defended the decision to remove Saddam from power, saying the world is now a better place for it.

Many Iraqis do not see it that way, and feel that the return of strongman rule might at least keep them safe.

At least there is this: One change since the invasion is that Iraqis feel freer to express themselves and challenge those in power. Iraqis like to joke that before, under Saddam’s tyranny, they would not even think of criticizing the government lest their own consciences snitch on them.

The other day, at the bombing site, an Iraqi soldier named Ahmed Abbas came to mourn the loss of his friend, Massoud. After fighting to defend Iraq, he said he had lost his faith in his country.

“I no longer have the conviction to fight for this failed government and these politicians who are ruling us,” he said. “We don’t know what the solution is.”

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