By SPIEGEL Staff
In America's public consciousness, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq has stagnated since the summer of 2007. At the time, more than half of respondents to opinion polls knew that 3,500 GIs had been killed, but today only a quarter of Americans know that the number has increased to 4,000. According to Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, the war has already cost the country at least $3 trillion.
Before they leave, Crocker and Commanding General David Petraeus, who also remains in office until January 2009, will have to deliver another report to Congress in April and explain to lawmakers what the US troop surge has achieved. After the summer of 2007, the number of attacks declined by half, but then it remained stable. There were just under 2,000 attacks every month from November to January, or about as many as in the spring of 2005.
The prognoses are relatively worthless as long as it is unclear what exactly the results of the turnaround have been. Optimists point to successes among Sunnis. Close to 80,000 former Sunni insurgents have changed sides and now work for the Americans, each of them earning $300 a month. Al-Qaida terrorism has been dealt a serious blow.
But skeptics warn against being too optimistic too soon when it comes to the Shiites. Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr has extended his Mahdi militia's cease-fire, which is indisputably the main reason for the drop in sectarian murders. But no one knows whether the cease-fire is merely a strategic move, or whether it will last.
The progress of the war has long depended on both people and developments no one would have imagined five years ago. General Tommy Franks, who directed the US invasion of Iraq, merely rolled his eyes when he was asked at the time what would happen after the war, former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith writes in his upcoming autobiography "War and Decision." Franks' response to the question was that he didn't have time for that kind of "bullshit." Indeed, there are failures everywhere Feith casts his eyes. But, as the reader soon learns, Feith is convinced that the triumvirate of planners -- then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush and Feith himself -- was infallible.
None of these retrospective quibbles appear to worry the president. "The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency," he said last week in Nashville. "It is the right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision."
How the country proceeds in Iraq will be decided, at least in part, by American voters this November. If they elect Republican John McCain as president, they may have to get used to a US presence in Iraq for another 100 years, as McCain has suggested. Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential candidates are urging a pullout of US troops. But neither side has thought of a peaceful way to resolve the political problems among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
On the following pages, five Iraqis describe how their lives have changed since the invasion.
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