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Signs of hope in a former Baghdad killing field
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Azamiyah residents complain that security forces conduct frequent arrest sweeps. They believe Sunni applicants are not given a fair chance in public sector hiring and that municipal services are even worse in their neighborhood than elsewhere in Baghdad.

"I want to stay in my country, but the future is uncertain because we cannot see a ray of hope," said Hamid al-Azami, 45, a doctoral student in Islamic studies who also works as a barber in a narrow stall in the open-air market outside the Abu Hanifa mosque.

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Lt. Gen. Hassan Baidani, a top Baghdad security official, denied that troops are singling out Azamiyah and said about half the checkpoints would be removed later this month, after an important Shiite religious holiday. Mohammed Hashim, a city spokesman, said services are bad all over Baghdad, not just in Sunni areas. Since the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqis have endured daily power cuts.

Azamiyah residents reserve some of their greatest bitterness for the United States.

Mohammed, the local council member, said he bluntly told U.S. officials during a trip by an Azamiyah delegation to Washington in 2008 that "you have destroyed the country and people hate you."

Still, residents said American soldiers generally made an effort to spare neighborhood’s civilians, could be reasoned with and contributed to the gradual security improvement since 2008. U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December.

Maj. Cecil Strickland, who took command of Charlie Company in March 2007, said he believes the unit, which lost 13 soldiers over 15 months, served as a catalyst for the turnaround.

"I think we did not waste our time," he said in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Even then, he said, Azamiyah was not without hope. "I would like to think that some of that hope has come to fruition," he said.




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