BAGHDAD, Iraq – In the year since American troops rolled into Baghdad, moderate Iraqis have counseled patience to allow Washington time to deliver on its promise to replace Saddam Hussein's dictatorship with democratic rule. Others dismissed the occupiers as "infidels" from whom nothing good could come.
Photographs showing Iraqi prisoners sexually humiliated by smiling American guards, combined with long-standing complaints of heavy handedness and cultural insensitivity by U.S. troops, have lent significant weight to the radical camp, compounding problems faced by Washington as it prepares to hand back power to Iraqis while dealing with Shiite (search) and Sunni (search) revolts.
The U.S. military and top Bush administration officials have strongly condemned the abuses, emphasizing they were the work of a small number of soldiers.
The military in Iraq also decided to grant the international Red Cross and Iraq's ministries of interior and human rights regular access to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison (search), where the abuses took place.
"The impact [of the Abu Ghraib scandal] on Iraqis will very much depend on the extent of their confidence that no stone was being left unturned by the investigations into the abuses and the efforts made to weed out those who broke the rule," coalition spokesman Gareth Bayley said.
But the extensive damage control effort, which included interviews with President Bush on two Arab satellite television stations and apologies by top U.S. military officers, may not be enough to assuage Iraqi anger.
Many Iraqis feel betrayed by the United States. Gratitude for toppling Saddam has been replaced by frustration over America's perceived failure to meet all Iraqi aspirations.
"It's all lies and lies," said Haidar Younis, who runs an electrical appliances store in central Baghdad. "America wants us to drown in chaos while its soldiers kill hundreds of us in the name of democracy."
The Abu Ghraib scandal moved Baghdad University lecturer Hameed Shihab Ahmed to join Iraqis who question the motives of last year's U.S.-led invasion. Rather than to promote democracy, many Iraqis believe Washington's goal was to control the country's oil wealth and promote Israel's regional interests.
"It is an occupation and by no means a liberation," said Ahmed, who specializes in international relations.
The abuses in Abu Ghraib pale in comparison to the brutal practices of Saddam's feared security agencies during his 23-year rule, marked by mass executions, torture, imprisonment and forced deportations.
But the high expectations of Iraqis combined with a resentment of the United States nurtured by decades of anti-American propaganda have given the abuses disproportionate significance.
President Bush sought to defuse the anger here and elsewhere in the Arab world in interviews granted Wednesday to two Arabic language television channels. In a democracy, he told the U.S. government funded al-Hurra, not everything is perfect. He did not apologize for the abuses but instead cited investigations as the virtue of an "open society."
"That stands in stark contrast to life under Saddam Hussein," he said. "His trained torturers were never brought to justice."
For many Iraqis, the Abu Ghraib case is part of a catalogue of policy blunders by the U.S. occupation administration, including the dissolving of the Iraqi army a year ago and the purge from government jobs of tens of thousands of Iraqi professionals who once belonged to Saddam's Baath party.
Resentment of the American occupation, however, was perhaps fueled more by some of the tactics used by the U.S. military such as late night raids of Iraqi homes in search of weapons and insurgents, the detention of women and what many Iraqis consider as the humiliation of being stopped and searched by foreign soldiers at checkpoints.
Many also complain of what they consider a "trigger-happy" attitude of U.S. soldiers, contending that they open fire at the slightest hint of suspicious behavior.
The Abu Ghraib scandal could not have come at a worse time for the Bush administration in terms of its Iraq policies.
Anti-occupation sentiment was whipped up to unprecedented levels during last month's siege by U.S. Marines of the turbulent Sunni city of Fallujah and the simultaneous revolt by militiamen loyal to a radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) across southern Iraq.
The violence — in which hundreds of Iraqis were killed — brought Iraqis together, sharing a fury over occupation policies and what they saw as the use of excessive force by the U.S. military.
"For those who thought the United States respected human rights and championed freedom, the picture should be very clear now," Abbas al-Robai, a close al-Sadr aide, said about the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Iraqis' aversion to the United States, he added, was somewhat reduced after Saddam's removal but "now, it's stronger than any time before."
Salama al-Khufaji, an independent-minded member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, is demanding that those responsible for the Abu Ghraib abuses stand trial before an Iraqi court.
"We fear the reaction of the Iraq street since many seem to try and use crises like this to destabilize the country," she said. "But what happened at Abu Ghraib should not be taken lightly. It's a question of human rights that must be addressed."
The deepening of anti-U.S. sentiment comes less than two months before the United States is due to hand back power to Iraqis. The fallout will likely influence the shape and tone of the transitional government that will take over June 30.