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Petraeus and Crocker Testimony Off the Radar of Most in Baghdad

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 10, 2008

BAGHDAD, April 9 -- The congressional testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker has barely registered in Iraq.

Several parliament members were unaware of what was said at the hearings. Many Baghdad residents had no idea they had taken place. Even on Alhurra, a U.S.-funded Arabic satellite channel, the testimony was the 10th and final report on Wednesday's evening newscast, following dispatches on Egyptian politics and the state of emergency preparedness in Syria.

"The Americans have hundreds of meetings and testimonies like this, and what has it done for the Iraqi people? Nothing," said Allah Sadiq, 49, a carpenter in the capital's Karrada district. "So why do we care? We just want all the foreigners to leave and stop causing disasters for our country."

Most Iraqis interviewed Wednesday were more concerned about a day-long curfew in the capital that left most streets nearly deserted. Continued clashes between Shiite militia members and U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood left at least 22 people dead, the Associated Press reported, including three children who were killed when apparently errant mortar shells struck houses and a funeral tent.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of five American soldiers, bringing the troop death toll to 17 since Sunday. Four of the deaths occurred Wednesday and the other on Tuesday, the military said.

Few Iraqis paid much attention to the events in Washington.

"I don't think that most politicians here are very interested in what's going on in the report by Petraeus and Crocker," said Sami al-Askari, a Shiite lawmaker and informal adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "To be honest, no one expects anything different in the report or believes that it will have that big an impact on Iraq."

Most Iraqi lawmakers continue to support the presence of the American-led coalition as necessary to maintaining security in the country. "We prefer that the multinational forces remain in Iraq till the Iraqi armed forces finishes building its force and is able to establish security," said Mohsen Saadoon, a Kurdish legislator.

The strongest political opposition to the presence of U.S. troops continues to come from supporters of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who have been involved in fierce clashes with Iraqi and U.S. troops over the past two weeks in Basra and the capital. His followers demand an immediate pullout of all foreign troops from Iraq.

"Presenting reports in front of the media and Congress has no use for us, for this is just a justification for the American forces to remain in Iraq," said Liwa Smesim, the head of the political committee of Sadr's movement. "We demand a complete pullout of the occupation forces as soon as possible. What we are seeing today on the TV screens is a failing charade, and it will fail by God's will."

On the streets of the upscale neighborhood of Karrada, people tended to favor an immediate pullout of American troops, with many blaming the United States for the calamities plaguing the city.

"For five years, the Americans have not done anything for the Iraqis. What do they think they can do for us in one more year?" said Hussein Jabar, 36, an employee at the Ministry of Industry. "All the Americans do is protect themselves, and we Iraqis are the victims."

He listed grievances: blocked sewage drains, militias attacking residents in the street, a dysfunctional government and frequent electricity outages. As he spoke, the power in the electronics shop he was standing in went out, leaving the room pitch black.

"I am so sick and tired of all this," he said. "We just want the Americans to go, and we will try to fix things ourselves."

Still, some people worried about even greater problems that might ensue if U.S. troops left.

Hajji Abdul Kareem, 62, a businessman, said he was impressed with the testimony given by Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq. "He was telling the truth and sending a clear message: that a sudden withdrawal from Iraq will make a big problem inside Iraq," he said.

But Abdul Kareem refused to say whether he wanted U.S. troops to remain. "If I support them or not, the Americans will stay," he said as he shook his head. "They will stay here for a long, long time."

Many had other things on their mind.

"I don't even know who Petraeus and Crocker are," said Yasser Kadhoum al-Khafaji, 31, a shop owner. "I think these sorts of things are more important for Americans than they are for Iraqis."

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

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