"On the first of May, Bush announced victory and declared an end to all major combat operations in Iraq.

"Now, seven months later, he is telling the US soldiers that they will win in Iraq because America remains on the offensive," said Dr Amal Slash, a former director of the Baghdad-based Bait al-Hikma Institute of Foreign Policy.

"What happened in the spring may have been a disgrace for the Iraqi army, but now it is clear that the people's resistance movement is gaining strength everyday. The real war has just begun, and Bush's statement only confirms this."

As a former senior-ranking Baath Party official, Dr Slash's comments may be considered somewhat biased.

Disappointment

However, his sentiments are shared by many of those who vehemently opposed Saddam Hussein's rule.

"In the first days following the collapse of the Iraqi regime, the people were filled with hope and dreams for a brighter future," said Haider Mirkhan, a former Kurdish Peshmerga militiaman who had been forced from his hometown of Kirkuk when Iraqi forces crushed the 1991 Kurdish uprising.

"However, now it is clear to everyone that America did not have a plan for the peace. There has been seven months of lawlessness and unemployment."

Before Iraq's invasion, most people worked for the government, either in the army, the police, or in the extensive civil service.

One of the first acts carried out by the new US civil administration was the dissolution of the Baath Party, which controlled security forces and the bureaucracy.

Mass unemployment

US troops are occupying a country
where most men are unemployed

Although there have been some steps taken to rehire and re-establish some of the governmental ministries, unemployment in Iraq is still estimated to be around 80%.

With the economy stalled, black market activity in post-war Iraq has continued unabated.

As of yet, there is no centralized control of the border, particularly along the Iraq-Turkey frontier which remains in the hands of Masud Barzani, the local Kurdish leader.

This vacuum of authority has created a smuggler's paradise, with entrepreneurial profiteers making small fortunes.

Smuggling

Every day hundreds of used and often stolen cars, bearing national license plates from all over Europe, cross the border into Kurdistan on their way to Baghdad.

Vast quantities of internationally donated food are also quick to find their way into the black market.

It is common to see vendors on Baghdad streets selling wheat and rice from packages emblazoned with the United Nations logo.

The most traded commodity by far is fuel.

"If anybody says that they don't think George Bush's war was about oil, I would suggest that they come here to see the massive rotting pipelines of oil tankers," said Muwaffaq Hacioglu, an Iraqi-Turkmen resident in the border city of Zakho.

"Twenty five kilometres of bumper to bumper tankers on either side of the border posts. Oil going out of Iraq, gasoline coming in."

Slow change

Under the previous government, Iraq had never needed to import gasoline, and through overproduction at oil refineries, fuel was heavily subsidized and abundantly available, even at the height of the economic sanctions.

Petrol, gas, electricity and water
are still a rare commodity in Iraq

Although there was relatively little wartime damage or sabotage, the Americans have yet to bring Iraqi's oil refineries back into full production.

In addition, the fuel demands of the 140,000-strong US occupation force that are constantly patrolling in heavy armoured vehicles have overtaxed the locally produced gasoline stocks.

"The fact that Iraq is sitting atop a mountain of oil and we have no gasoline is unbelievable," said Anmar al-Saadi, a former Iraqi commando who now makes a living driving a taxi in Baghdad.

"Simply acquiring fuel is now a full-time job that employs most Iraqis."

Limited gas supplies

Under US control, Iraqi gasoline is still sold at subsidised prices, but in severely restricted quantities.

Throughout Iraq, continuous line-ups form at the state-run gas pumps.

"People spend four days and nights in these line-ups before getting their rationed gasoline," said Anmar. "As soon as they are finished, they siphon out every last drop and sell it at a 100% mark up to those of us who cannot afford to wait."

Another sector experiencing a major employment boom in the post-war chaos is that of security.

The recent spate of car bombs has created tremendous demand for concrete barricades and anti-vehicle obstacles.

Building a prison

Surrounding major US and international facilities, previously protected by sandbags and barbed wire, massive reinforced concrete barricades have now been erected.

"They call this operation Iraqi Freedom but our world has become nothing but curfews, barbed wire, searchlights and soldiers. George Bush has turned Iraq into the biggest prison on earth, and called it Freedom"

Ibrahim Amin,
real estate broker

Around several key installations (such as the US headquarters in Baghdad at the former Al-Rashid hotel), these concrete bastions have been used to block off entire streets.

While the coalition forces have been hastily hiring Iraqi volunteers for a reconstituted security force, there has also been a large influx into Iraq of private security specialists.

Major American corporations involved in the Iraqi reconstruction programme have hired former US or British special forces soldiers for as much as $1200 a day to provide their personnel with protection.

Low pay

By comparison, Iraqis enlisted into the police force are paid approximately $55 a month.

"This is an outrage when you have former Iraqi school teachers and engineers taking these low-paying, high-risk security jobs because they have to feed their families," said Jabar Abu Marwan, a former officer in Saddam's Mukhabarat (secret service).

"The Americans are stealing Iraqi money to pay Americans to protect them. Wouldn't they be safer if they had stayed in America in the first place?"

However, not all Iraqis view the pay discrepancy disapprovingly.

"The Americans did not come to Iraq because they view us as their brothers. However, they did us a favour by removing Saddam Hussein," said Walid Taha, a 43-year-old entrepreneur whose firm currently has nearly 1000 unskilled labourers working on US bases.

"If the Americans take a profit, we must accept this as the price of Iraqi freedom."

For an estimated 300 Iraqis who served as police alongside US coalition forces, securing that freedom cost them their lives.

Discontent

In recent months, the Iraqi resistance movement has increasingly targeted the lightly armed and protected police forces. 

This is not only because the Iraqi police make for a softer target than their heavily armed coalition counterparts, but also since the resistance views those on the American payroll as traitors.

Iraqi children in Fallujah are no
strangers to daily resistance acts

In the streets of Fallujah city, which is known for its resistance to occupation, Arabic graffiti proclaims, "It is not okay to take American money, it is okay to kill the occupiers."

In addition to the police and corporate security firms, a large number of private armies and ethnic militia groups are also being mobilized around Iraq.

In the north are the two Kurdish as well as some newly formed ethnic Turkmen units, while a number of Shia Arab militias have formed in the south, with the largest being the 5000-strong Badr Brigade.

Headquartered in Najaf, one of the major problems faced by the US interim administration is trying to establish and enforce its jurisdiction over these armed factions.

For instance, when a car bomb was detonated on 21 November outside the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk, the Kurds refused to allow the US authorities to investigate.

"We sealed off the area, and collected all the evidence," explained Hal Gurd, the head of the PUK's secret service. "We will determine who is to blame and punish the culprits."

No justice

This idea of vigilantism, combined with the complete lack of a centralised justice system, has been frustrating to the US-appointed civic council.

"There are presently some 11,000 Iraqi citizens under detention in Iraq but there is no proper justice system in place to process them," said Ismat Abd al-Majid Baqir, who is currently working with the Ministry of Justice Committee and is trying to help draft a new Iraqi constitution.

"At the moment, there can be no justice in Iraq," said Baqir

As the attacks against the US and coalition forces intensify, the allied response has been to step up their own countermeasures with more arrests, more checkpoints and more defense construction.

"They call this operation Iraqi Freedom," said Ibrahim Amin, a 47-year-old real estate broker, "but our world has become nothing but curfews, barbed wire, searchlights, and soldiers.

"George Bush has turned Iraq into the biggest prison on earth, and called it Freedom."