Iraqis Differ on Obama's Plans

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 19, 2008

BAGHDAD, July 18 -- As Sen. Barack Obama prepares for his second visit to Iraq, Iraqis are divided over his plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops in 16 months should he be elected president.

"Iraq will be in hell, and we will find ourselves at the gates of civil war," said Maied Rashed al-Nuaemi, a provincial council member in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq where Iraqi forces are battling the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. "The American presence in Iraq is the safety valve to keep this country quiet. If they withdraw, that will lead to calamity."

But Mosul's deputy governor said he feels otherwise. "The U.S. presence in Iraq is useful now, but if the security situation gets better, I think it's not necessary to keep all these big numbers of soldiers here," Khasru Koraan said.

Perhaps more than any country in the world besides the United States, Iraq finds that its future is at stake in the presidential elections this November. And the single most important question Iraqis have for the next president is: How long will U.S. forces remain?

While most Iraqis are against what they see as the continuing U.S. occupation, many also view the U.S. military as a bulwark against Shiite militias and Sunni extremists, as well as the growing regional influence of Iran. In polls, a majority of Iraqis say they want U.S. forces to leave, but only a minority say they want the forces to leave immediately.

Some of the more than two dozen Iraqis interviewed for this article said Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is naive in wanting to withdraw U.S. combat troops by the summer of 2010. Others viewed his position as a political calculation to win votes from a populace tired of war.

"I think that Obama talks more than what he can accomplish, because reality differs from promises and dreams," said Um Mohammed, 60, an engineer in Baghdad who declined to give her full name. "I think it is just a camouflage to reach the presidential chair. It's a way to satisfy the American people and the American mothers."

Mohammed Sulaiman, 56, a retired government employee in Baghdad, said: "The proposal of Obama to pull out the troops by summer 2010 is foolish. If the United States withdraws from Iraq, I think its credibility among the international countries would collapse."

Most Iraqis interviewed appeared wary of setting a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and senior politicians have said they want such a commitment from the Bush administration.

"We need more training, as well as new and developed weapons and supplies. We also need modern and developed technology. The U.S. forces should withdraw gradually so our Iraqi forces can fill the gaps that the American forces will leave," said Brig. Gen. Najim Abdullah, spokesman for the Iraqi National Police. "As to a timetable, I don't think we should specify it now, because it is related to the logistical support and the ability of our Iraqi forces to handle their responsibility."

Several Iraqi army commanders said the country's security forces would not be ready to stand on their own for at least several years.

"Now we are only fighting the insurgency in our country, and we still need the support" of U.S.-led coalition forces, said Maj. Gen. Habeeb al-Husaini, commander of the Iraqi army's 14th Division, whose forces control the cities of Amarah, Samawah and Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. "So how about if we want to defend the country from the external threats?"

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