BAGHDAD, Iraq — Some Iraqis on Wednesday said they agreed with President Bush’s pledge to keep American troops in their country until Iraq’s security forces can stand alone, but others said they were fed up with what they call the U.S. occupation.
“Iraq cannot be stable if the American and coalition forces left it because Iraqi forces don’t have the required level of training to protect the country,” said Baghdad University engineering professor Moayad Yasin al-Samaraie, 55.
Real estate agent Ali al-Jibouri, 45, disagreed, saying that only Iraqi politicians are benefiting from the foreign presence. “Everything was plotted by the Iraqi politicians who came from abroad to prolong the time of the occupation because it will serve their personal interests,” al-Jibouri said.
Bush’s speech was broadcast live on several Arab television networks, but most Iraqis were asleep because it began at about 4:00 a.m. local time Wednesday. TV newscasts replayed portions of the speech, drawing a wide range of reactions from Iraqis.
Iraqi PM: 'No country accepts having foreign troops'
In his speech, Bush rejected suggestions that he set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq or send in more troops, counseling patience for Americans who question the war’s painful costs.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who met with Bush in Washington last week, was quoted as saying in Wednesday’s edition of the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that he discussed the issue of troop withdrawal with the U.S. president.
“We want the foreign troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible,” al-Jaafari was quoted as telling the newspaper in an interview. “No country accepts having foreign troops on its lands because this indicates our inability to defend our country and our acknowledgment that there is a security problem.”
And some Iraqis also want to know when U.S. troops will leave.
“We haven’t felt any change since the transfer of authority last year, and the reason behind that is the lack of a withdrawal timetable,” said Saeed Yasin Moussa, 52, an employee at the Oil Ministry. “The timetable can lessen the psychological pressure on the Iraqi people.”
Few changes since handover of sovereignty
Bush’s speech came on the one-year anniversary of the handover of sovereignty, but many ordinary Iraqis still believe the presence of about 138,000 U.S. troops prevents local officials from fully controlling internal affairs.
“The transfer of authority was a great dream, but nothing took place,” said Samah Abdul Mihsen, a 24-year-old housewife who lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Baghdad. “Bush does not want to pull out the American forces although we can defend our country. There are so many problems because of the presence of foreign troops.”
Those problems include a failure to fully restore basic services, such as electricity, water and sewage treatment.
“Bush’s speech does not change anything for the Iraqi people and does not meet their needs for water, electricity, transportation and security from car bombs. I think the Iraqi people do not care about the speech because they are so preoccupied with their daily needs,” Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament.
Before the U.S.-led invasion, Baghdad residents had about 20 hours of electricity a day. Today, they get just over nine hours. There are also frequent fuel and drinking water shortages, and only 37 percent of the population has a working sewage system.
Speech 'addressed to the American people'
During his speech, Bush said that it was hard to rebuild a country after three decades of tyranny “and rebuilding while a country is at war is even harder.” He said the U.S. and Iraqi governments were “working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity and water.”
But Othman said that Bush’s speech “is addressed to the American people, not the Iraqi people. For us nothing is new. But Bush wanted to boost the morale of the American people in these days in which surveys show that the majority in America are against Bush’s policy in Iraq.”
A senior official of what is believed to be the country’s largest Shiite political group also said Bush’s speech probably did not have much resonance with ordinary Iraqis.
“As far as Iraqis are concerned, there was nothing important in the speech,” said Ridha Jawad Taqi of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq. “But I heard it was important to the Americans. ... It is necessary not to set up a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Their presence is linked to the security situation here.”
A Sunni Arab politician said he felt that members of his community — a minority in Iraq — were marginalized in the political process and in the Iraqi security forces.
“The country is now run by the Shiite and the Kurdish alliances,” said Ayad al-Samarrai, a senior official of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni party. “This reflects badly on the political process ... . We think that the American way of dealing with the situation here either reflects a failure to understand the nature of the place or shows that they’re not working as seriously as they should be.”
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