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With Elections Past, Many Are Critical Of U.S. Presence

"The crux of the problem is the occupation," Abdul Salem Kubaissy, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, said in an interview Tuesday. "If there is a timetable for withdrawal backed by international guarantees, we can appeal to the majority of the resistance fighters and most of them would heed the call to stop. We could spare the blood of our sons and people.

"If there is no timetable," he added, "the occupation will be permanent. We all know that under occupation, there is no chance for any legitimate Iraqi government."

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Many Iraqis are convinced that the United States invaded to take control of Iraq's oil supply, secure a military and political base close to Iran and create business opportunities for American contractors.

"We wish they would go," said Salah Khazal, 51, a tailor's helper. "But we know the Americans. We know the history: Wherever the Americans go, they never leave easily. They establish bases and stay."

Some Iraqis say, however, that as long as insurgent violence continues, their tolerance for the U.S. presence increases.

"If we have security and the government is formed, then we will have no need to see the Americans here," said Ali Jekor, 36, who owns a photo shop in a working-class neighborhood called New Baghdad. "But we don't have that now. They can't leave before they wipe out terrorism."

"Let's be frank," added a neighbor, Nahal Haddo, 50. "When they go in the streets, blocking traffic and waving their guns, the people don't like them here. People look at them as imperialists. But, right now, the American forces are a must. If they leave, we will end up with a second Taliban in Iraq."

Special correspondent Khalid Saffar contributed to this report.


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