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Iraqis have few illusions about U.S. election

Iraq has proved to be the central deciding issue in today's U.S. presidential election. But, many Iraqis themselves are ambivalent about the election - believing that neither Bush nor Kerry can deliver them from the daily nightmare plaguing their country. NBC News' Jim Maceda reports from Baghdad.
/ Source: NBC News

If the latest nationwide poll is any indication, Iraqis are also divided when it comes to keeping President George W. Bush in power.

According to a mid-October survey conducted by Baghdad's Center for Research and Strategic Studies, about 21 percent of Iraqis polled favor John Kerry for president.

Some 17 percent want four more years of Bush. But, with a built-in four percent margin of error, the two candidates might well be in a dead heat in Iraq, too.

But here's the rub: By an overwhelming majority of almost 60 percent, Iraqis just don't care who holds the job that will so largely influence this country's future.

Iraqis too tired to care
How can that be? Many Iraqis are simply too exhausted to care. Real unemployment is close to 70 percent. Security is non-existent. More than 1,000 Iraqi police and national guardsmen have been killed since January, most of them young recruits.

U.S.-funded reconstruction projects have all but dried up, with both foreign contractors and Iraqi workers too afraid to show up at the sites.

Managing to feed families and send kids to school despite daily bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and robberies is already enough for any reasonable human to deal with.

True, those who are leaning toward Bush do so out of the belief that he will stay the course and eventually defeat the insurgents who have terrorized their lives.

Ali, a leather goods shop owner in Baghdad's Karrada district — an area rife with car bomb attacks — said he'd vote for Bush. ''He's got good relations with the Iraqi government, and he's a known quantity,'' he said.

Those Iraqis who favor Kerry, meanwhile, tend to think that he is less of a warmonger and more of a peacemaker. They believe that somehow a new face might bring an end to a 20-month-old deadly conflict.

Nizar Hassan, a grocery store employee, thinks that Iraq would benefit from a Democrat president like Kerry, whose priorities are more domestic, without any of the visions of saving the world associated with the Bush administration.

''Kerry might calm things down,'' speculated Hassan. ''He might pull the U.S. troops off the streets and back to their bases. This would help the situation.''

But the vast numbers of Iraqis who see no difference between Bush and Kerry would likely agree with Zainab, a female medical doctor who asked that her last name not be used. ''It's the same policy, only different faces.''

If Kerry's got a better plan — Iraqis haven't heard it
If Kerry thinks he has a better plan than his opponent for bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion, the Iraqis haven't heard it. 

That may not be surprising, given that most Iraqis get their news and analysis from either al-Jazeera or al-Arabiya TV networks, which often ignore the nuances of the debate between the two superpower candidates.

Sadek Raheem Abed, a sales manager, said he's heard a lot about Bush and Kerry's taxation plans, for instance, but finds that irrelevant for Iraqis.

''We are looking for a completely new foreign policy,'' he said. ''We need new U.S. relations with Arabs, a new page with Muslims. Can Kerry do this any better than Bush? Who knows?''

Ethnic breakdown clear
The ethnic breakdown of support for either Bush or Kerry, however, is hardly a toss-up.

Almost 40 percent of those who would vote for Bush are Kurds (only 7 percent of Kurds would vote for Kerry), according to the poll conducted by the Center for Research and Strategic Studies.

That’s a reminder that at least the northern Kurdish-dominated third of Iraq still believes that the Bush-inspired fall of Saddam Hussein was a true liberation from a generation of suffering, one that a President Kerry — in trying to win the peace — might not fully defend.

Meanwhile, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayyad Allawi, an ethnic Shiite, has gingerly avoided comment on the American presidential race.

But, few doubt that he would much prefer working with the man who virtually handed him his current job, rather than the other one, Sen. Kerry, who has called him a puppet of a failed U.S. foreign policy.

Few illusions
But even those Iraqis who say they favor Kerry in this election have no illusions about his ability to end the terror and killing that have turned their lives into a nightmare.

While most Iraqis reject the hard-line insurgents, it hardly means that they embrace the U.S. mission here.

Few Iraqis have seen any tangible benefits — new jobs, new roads, clean water, sufficient power — from an occupation many ordinary law-biding Iraqis think should have ended over a year ago.

''Kerry and Bush may say different things, but we know it's all about economic colonization. It's all about our oil,”  said Abed, the sales manager.

If the U.S. election took place in Iraq, it would probably come down to the wire.

But, most Iraqis would stay home, too afraid to vote and be caught in the crosshairs of a conflict that has spun out of control.

It's a genie which few Iraqis believe either President Bush or President Kerry can put back in the bottle.