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)