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Iraqis want US troops out, but fear for the future

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 16, 2008
Many Iraqis welcomed the government's decision Sunday to approve a military pact that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, but feared Iraq will not be able to defend itself without them.

Mohammed al-Asadi, a policeman guarding one of the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the capital, said that although security is improving Iraqi forces will not be able to survive on their own.

"We and the Americans are cooperating and there are still many bombs and exploding cars. So how can we face this terrorism alone, this terrorism that is being fed by those who are closest to us, the neighbouring countries?" he said.

Many Iraqis believe Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have stoked sectarian tensions and backed militias in the years since the 2003 US-led invasion, waging a bloody proxy war that killed tens of thousands of people.

That has led many, particularly in Iraq's Sunni community, to view the United States as an important if unlikely ally.

Given the threats, Asadi said he was certain the Americans will not stick to the timetable of the agreement, which requires them to leave Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009 and the country as a whole by the end of 2011.

"I don't think the day will ever come when the American forces leave Iraq, especially after they have built all these bases here," he said, referring to the more than 400 US bases in the country.

"For them the occupation of Iraq has been a dream come true. How are they going to give up this joy?" he said, chuckling.

"I am obliged to wait at this checkpoint for the next seven months, and we are going to see American forces driving through the streets of Baghdad without any hesitation."

Ali Hossam, a 29-year-old civil servant passing through the checkpoint, was more optimistic about the agreement.

"I support the decision on the agreement because it serves the Iraqi people, and in its form and content it will end the occupation," he said.

"It was the occupation that encouraged the sectarianism in this country. It's the occupation that caused the destruction of the country."

Abu Mustafa, a shopowner down the street, also backs the pact.

"Iraq cannot handle any more of this occupation, and we want -- today and not tomorrow -- to see them go and leave the decisions to us."

However, he doubts whether Iraq's present government will be able to address the challenges facing the country, which has been devastated by years of wars and sanctions and remains deeply divided.

"We want to see them go so we can know where the problems are, whether they were with them or with this series of governments we've had," he said.

"In the agreement (the Americans) give up the security file, but there is still the issue of external security where we need guidance. Is the government capable of defending the country from interference from neighbouring states?"

Iraq has insisted its security forces have improved and will be ready to take over when their US allies leave, but many Iraqis are not so sure.

"The date of the US withdrawal is too early, because the Iraqi forces will not be ready to defend themselves from the external enemies," Musa Khadim, a 37-year-old engineer said.

"Iraq, at this stage, needs international protection. The US forces have many mistakes, but their withdrawing before Iraqi forces are strong enough to defend themselves is not good for the country."

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US pact holds pitfalls for Iraq's feuding factions: analysts
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 16, 2008
Most of Iraq's political factions believe that a military pact approved by the Iraqi cabinet Sunday offers the best hope for eventually expelling foreign troops, but convincing the public could prove divisive, analysts said.







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