And almost a year after US and British planes began bombing Baghdad, the mood here is dark.

"They (occupation forces) have been here for almost a year and we haven't seen any changes. We haven't seen anything positive until now. And hatred towards them has increased," says political science student Ibtisam.

Standing in front of the sprawling department of political science and international relations, Ibtisam and her friends are eager to discuss the changing face of Iraq. 

These young women have hopes and dreams. If they harboured any hopes that Washington's promises of democracy and freedom would ride in with US tanks, they vanished over the last year.

Occupation troops: unwelcome

"It's because what they say is something and the reality is something else. The situation has deteriorated," says Amal.

"It's true that the former government was not perfect but after seeing what the Americans are doing, we believe that the former government was better. At least there was safety and security. We are scared of going anywhere. Imagine, I am scared of walking in the street because an explosion could go off," she says.

Women threatened

That is not the only reason she and her friends are scared of walking in the streets: since the fall of Baghdad, there has been a rise in rape and kidnap incidents. 

And while Baghdad was like any other city where certain areas were best avoided after dark, the Iraqi capital was mainly safe for women at all hours, "especially because there was a lot of police," says Akhlas. 

That feeling of security has disappeared.

These young women have arranged for a local, trusted bus driver to drive them to university, where more than 50,000 students study, and return them home before 5:00pm at sundown.

"There is chaos in everything, especially in moving around. When people go out they are worried all the time, all the way until they get home," regrets Areej.

"We were not expecting this chaos," adds Ibtisam.

Broken promises

Occupation officials describe their presence and measures in Iraq as "nation restoration".

"We're moving in a direction that brings restoration and new things to the people that have no idea about them," said Major John Frisbie, public affairs officer of the second brigade of the first armoured division in Baghdad.

"The first demonstrated thing was the satellite dishes. We saw them spring up everywhere as soon as the regime fell. And now everyday 3500 more people in Baghdad get cell phones."

But Iraqis want promises of freedom and democracy to be fulfilled before being able to buy the latest gadgets.

"Is freedom having a mobile and satellite dish?" asks Ala. "If I can buy a mobile now and use it, is this the height of freedom?"

Many Iraqis - from all of the country's ethnic and religious backgrounds - willingly admit that Saddam Hussein was a harsh ruler who allowed little room for diverse opinions.

"The occupation forces have been here for almost a year and we haven't seen any changes. We haven't seen anything positive until now"

Ibtisam,
Baghdad University student


Solutions

And they are articulate when asked what needs to be done for Iraq.

"There can be no democracy within this chaos. There needs to be some organisation and then there will be democracy," says Ala. Reconstructing the political make-up of the government should come from among Iraqis, she adds. "Democracy is not something you can bring from outside and plant in Iraq."

Mainly, these students want an eventual withdrawal of US forces and the right to elect their future leader.

Animosity towards the occupation troops has grown over the last year because of the soldiers' treatment to Iraqis, they say.

In the early days of the war, Areej's brother, 22, and cousin, 26, were fleeing the capital for Diyala province where the rest of the family had sought safety.

As they rushed out of the city, US troops "mistook them for resistance fighters or Iraqi soldiers," says Areej. A tank shell immediately slammed into their vehicle. Her cousin was killed instantly. Her brother has lost the use of his right arm.

Everyone here has a story to tell of trigger-happy US soldiers shooting innocents.

"For them, killing an Iraqi is like killing a chicken. They really feel nothing towards us," complains Areej.