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A PORTRAIT OF IRAQ

Farnaz Fassihi, a Wall Street Journal reporter, sent an e-mail to her friends about the situation U.S. troops are facing. Here is an excerpt:

"I am housebound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. . . . There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. . . .

"Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked: 'How are things?' they reply: 'The situation is very bad.'

"What they mean by situation is this: The Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of land mines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings.

"The situation, basically, means a raging, barbaric guerrilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

"Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day. . . . The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If anything, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it -- Baathists, criminals, nationalists and al-Qaida -- are cooperating and coordinating. . . .

"America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day -- over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

"As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction, only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a check has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

"Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage, and oil prices have hit a record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and al-Qaida is running around in Iraq?

"Iraqis say that thanks to America, they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

"I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections, he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad. . . ."