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December 30, 2011

Scenes from Iraq

As 2011 ends, Iraqis confront their challenges with neither the presence of US troops, nor the shadow of Saddam Hussein, who was executed five years ago today. He had ruled since 1979, although he'd been a power player in the government since 1968. The American occupation ended officially on December 15, eight years after the 2003 invasion. Sectarian strife still plagues Iraq, and although the violence lessened from near-civil war levels in 2006, the pullout of American forces has seen a return of hostilities. While the number of American casualties of the occupation stands at 4,487, figures for Iraqi casualties have no such certainty. Some estimates put the figure as high as 100,000. Now conflicts new and old wait to be dealt with by a country free to decide its own fate for the first time in generations. Sectarian struggle, problems with water and electricity delivery, and war-ravaged infrastructure are just a few of the issues facing Iraqis today. Gathered here are recent images of Iraq as it looks ahead to 2012. The last four images are portraits by Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton, who asked ordinary Iraqis for their thoughts on their future after the pullout of American forces. -- Lane Turner (36 photos total)

A man smokes a water pipe at a cafe on Mutanabi Street in Baghdad on December 9, 2011. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

A female taxi driver fetches a passenger in Arbil on November 19, 2011. Inspired by the success stories of the ladies' taxi services in Lebanon and Dubai, 25-year old civil engineer Lana Khoshabaan has recently started an all-women taxi firm, in the Kurdish city of Arbil. The black cars, imprinted with the words "PNK TAXI" are dispatched upon calls to pick up female passengers from all parts of Arbil. (Azad Lashkari/Reuters) #

Yasser Yassin, a 9-year-old who left school, works at a garage in Baghdad on November 15, 2011. (Saad Shalash/Reuters) #

A girl holds balloons inside the Al-Zawraa Amusement Park in Baghdad on December 2, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

A woman and children pause at a camp allocated for widows in Baghdad on December 11, 2011. There may be 1.5 million widows, nearly 10 percent of the female population of Iraq. (Mohammed Ameen/Reuters) #

A widow works on a sewing machine at her house in Baghdad's Sadr city on October 23, 2011. An estimated two million women are primary breadwinners in Iraq. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters) #

Widows work in a dairy factory in Kerbala on November 5, 2011. (Mushtaq Muhammed/Reuters) #

Investors work the phones at the Iraq Stock Exchange during trading hours in Baghdad December 12, 2011. The Iraq Stock Exchange began its operations in June of 2004 and operates under the Iraq Securities Commission, an independent commission similar to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

An Iraqi man looks at anti-US cartoons displayed at an exhibition in Karbala on November 28, 2011. (Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images) #

Bishop Shlemon Warduni gestures to a member of his congregation following Christmas day mass at the Virgin Mary Chaldean Christian church (Church of Our Lady of Sacred Heart) in Baghdad on December 25, 2011. Warduni estimates that Iraq's Christian population, put at between 800,000 to 1.2 million before the 2003 US-led invasion, had halved since then. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images) #

An Iraqi man rides a motorbike in the Karrada district of Baghdad on December 13, 2011. (Saad Shalash//Reuters) #

A woman and her child beg at the Shurja wholesale market in central Baghdad on December 5, 2011. Shurja, Baghdad's largest and oldest wholesale market, was the target of several major bomb and militant attacks after the US-led invasion in 2003. (Saad Shalash//Reuters) #

Women walk through a market in Falluja on December 6, 2011. As US forces pull out of Iraq, residents and officials there say they leave behind bullet-riddled homes, destroyed infrastructure and a worrying increase in birth defects and maladies in a city polluted by weapons and war chemicals. (Mohanned Faisal/Reuters) #

A man reads a book on Mutanabi Street in Baghdad on December 9, 2011. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters) #

An Iraqi vendor carries a crate of fish to be transported to the market on Abu Nawas street along the Tigris River in Baghdad on December 10, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

Residents prepare food for pilgrims attending the religious ceremony of Ashura in Baghdad on December 6, 2011. The festival, commemorated by Shi'ite Muslims, marks the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in the battle of Karbala in Iraq in the year 680. (Saad Shalash/Reuters) #

A woman sells legumes at a market in Baghdad's Sadr City on December 16, 2011. (Mohammed Ameen/Reuters) #

A man works at his shop selling traditional hand-made copperware in Baghdad on December 20, 2011. Al-Safafeer Souq is one of the Iraqi capital's street markets selling traditional and cultural goods ranging from souvenir items to antiques. (Mohammed Ameen/Reuters) #

A woman looks at Santa Claus dolls while shopping in Baghdad on December 27, 2011. (Saad Shalash/Reuters) #

A man fishes across from the Green Zone on the Tigris River in Baghdad on December 2, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

A traffic signal glows at dusk along a street near Kahramana Square in Baghdad on December 10, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

Iraqi men play soccer on a field along Abu Nawas street across from the Green Zone on the Tigris River in Baghdad on December 10, 2011. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

Residents protest a decision announcing Diyala province as autonomous, outside the headquarters of the Diyala local government in Baquba on December 13, 2011. (Stringer/Reuters) #

Iraqi soldiers celebrate after training at Basmaya military base in Baghdad on November 22, 2011. (Mohammed Ameen/Reuters) #

Members of Iraq's federal police bomb squad parade with their remote Explosive Ordnance Disposal vehicles during the seventh anniversary of the founding of the federal police in Baghdad on November 22, 2011. (Saad Shalash/Reuters) #

A boy stands near the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad's Shaab District on December 22, 2011. The death toll from a series of bomb attacks in the Iraqi capital climbed to at least 40, with scores wounded. More than 10 explosions struck Baghdad in the first apparently coordinated attack on the capital since a crisis erupted between its Shiite-led government and Sunni rivals after the withdrawal of the last US troops. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters) #

A man wounded in a bomb attack is treated at a hospital in Baghdad on December 5, 2011. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters) #

Residents inspect a damaged church after a bomb attack in central Kirkuk on August 15, 2011. Iraqis are still troubled by almost daily bombings, attacks and killings that are as much a part of their lives as power shortages, security checkpoints and government food rations. (Ako Rasheed/Reuters) #

Iraqi security forces arrest suspected militants during a raid in Basra on December 23, 2011. They were arrested on suspicion of blowing up an oil pipeline. (Atef Hassan/Reuters) #

An Iraqi security force officer guards one of three suspects accused of taking part in the killing of Shiite Muslim pilgrims, on December 26, 2011, near Ramadi, in the Sunni Muslim dominated province of Anbar. The alleged planners and gunmen killed 22 pilgrims in September 2011 as they were traveling from Karbala, one of the holiest Shiite Muslim shrines to neighboring Syria. (Azhar Shallal/AFP/Getty Images) #

An Iraqi boy is taken away from a suspected militant who has been accused of killing his father at the height of the sectarian slaughter in 2006-07, during a presentation to the media at the Interior Ministry in Baghdad on November 21, 2011. A total of 22 suspected militants were presented to the media on Monday as they await their trial. (Saad Shalash/Reuters) #

A man excavates a newly-discovered mass grave in the desert of western Anbar province on April 14, 2011. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed or went missing in the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007 unleashed by the US-led invasion in 2003. Many of the missing were never found, and the excavation of mass graves that may provide answers for the relatives of the dead is considered a critical step in healing after years of war. (Ali al-Mashhadani/Reuters) #

Kharar Haider,12, a young student, poses for a portrait at a soccer field along the Tigris River across from the Green Zone in Baghdad on December 10, 2011. When asked, "What do you see for the future of Iraq now that the United States military is leaving the country ?'', Haider replied, "I don't think we will have more problems and it is better than when Saddam was here. We have no heating or light in school. I don't think that is going to get better." (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

Roaua Mansour ,18, a mother, poses for a portrait in her home in Baghdad on December 11, 2011. When asked, "What do you see for the future of Iraq now that the United States military is leaving the country?'', Mansour replied, "I was just a young girl when the Americans came. I used to walk with the US soldiers and take pictures with them and they talked with me. They gave me pencils, and school books. I hope things get better but security is still the main problem here." (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

Ihab Najam, 23, an unemployed former security guard, poses for a portrait at his home in Baghdad on December 11, 2011. When asked, "What do you see for the future of Iraq now that the United States military is leaving the country?'', Najam replied, "I expect worse days to come now. When the Americans leave, the Iraqi army will not be able to fight al Queda. Even when the Americans were here they could not stop all the bombings, and neither will the Iraqis." (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) #

Saad Moslem ,63, a fishmonger, poses for a portrait inside a fish market in Baghdad on December 10, 2011. When asked, "What do you see for the future of Iraq now that the United States military is leaving the country?'', Moslem replied, "Iraq is more stable now. I hope everything is going to be fine. All depends on God. In my neighborhood there is no electricity, no water. We have to buy water to drink. Hopefully nothing will happen." (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)#