BAGHDAD — Almost seven years after the first bombs in the war to oust Saddam Hussein, Iraqis went about their business Friday with little observance of the anniversary, looking to the future with a mixture of trepidation and hope.
The seven-year anniversary comes as Iraqis await results from the country's second nationwide parliamentary election, a key milestone that will determine who will oversee Iraq as U.S. forces go home.
There was little fanfare in Baghdad and around the country for an event many Iraqis first viewed with hope only to see it sour into sorrow and anger as the invasion unleashed rampant sectarian violence.
"Now we have democracy and freedom, but the cost was dire and Iraqis have paid that price," said Raid Abdul-Zahra, 38, a technician in Najaf.
While violence has plummeted since the height of the bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, attacks continue across the country, although in much smaller numbers.
On Friday, at least five people were killed in bombs and shootings Friday across Iraq.
Three people were killed when a bomb exploded in the Sadr City slum of eastern Baghdad; gunmen killed an Iraqi soldier in southern Baghdad; and a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed an Iraqi soldier, police and hospital officials said. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Many Iraqis view the U.S. plans to withdraw with mixed feelings — pride that their country is regaining its full sovereignty but also concern that the lull in violence may break and bloodshed return.
"If the forces leave speedily, there will be a power vacuum and more problems will erupt because Iraqi forces are not loyal to Iraq but to their party affiliations," said Abdul-Karim Moussa, 55, in Baghdad. But he also echoed a feeling nurtured by many Iraqis, that the U.S. has no real intention of going home. "I think the Americans will not leave as planned but change their plans. There will be no real withdrawal."
In Sadr City, the stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Sheik Suhail al-Akabi described the anniversary as the "ominous day of the invasion," and called for a demonstration on April 9, the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, "to call for the departure of the occupying forces."
Video: Iraq 'more peaceful,' but not stable yet Followers of al-Sadr have been some of the most vocal and adamant voices calling for U.S. troops to immediately leave Iraq.
The U.S. military said there were no ceremonies or special events to mark the anniversary.
At least 4,386 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.
Those numbers have tapered off significantly as violence has dropped and U.S. forces have limited their operations as part of the U.S.-Iraq pact under which American forces pulled out of Iraqi cities.
Lower death toll
Last year, 152 American service members died in Iraq, compared to 314 a year earlier, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press using data from the U.S. Defense Department.
The number of troops in Iraq has also dropped significantly since the height of the war in October 2007, when the U.S. had about 170,000 troops in the country. About 95,000 remain, and that number is expected to fall to 50,000 by the end of August under a plan by President Barack Obama to remove all combat troops from the country. All American troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
According to figures compiled by Iraq's Human Rights Ministry and released last fall, 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008 and 147,195 were wounded. The figures include Iraqi civilians, military and police but do not cover U.S. military deaths, insurgents, or foreigners, including contractors. And it did not include the first months of the war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
However, those figure are widely considered a minimum because many so many deaths went unreported.
The war in Iraq has cost more than $712 billion, according to the National Priorities Project.
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