Iraqis want Obama for change; some fear pullout plan

Iraqis, blaming President George Bush for the chaos in their country since the fall of Saddam Hussein, would welcome Democrat Barack Obama's election on Tuesday for the change it would bring, although doubts remain about his plans for pulling out US troops, dpa reported.

A dozen Iraqis interviewed by the Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on the streets of Baghdad said they hoped for a departure from Bush's policies and hoped Obama could improve their lives even if they aren't familiar with the details of his policies toward the country, where more than 140,000 US troops are stationed.

Even in Baghdad, Iraq's capital, electricity is only on 10 hours per day, a daily reminder of the failure of the US presence in Iraq to improve the daily life of its citizens.

"We hope that Obama will be more committed to solving Iraq's problems and arranging the situation in Iraq in a new way," said Samia Mohammed Ali al-Nouami, 52, a retired government employee.

Amged Said, a Baghdad taxi driver, blamed Bush for the sectarian tension in Iraq, which he said didn't exist before the invasion. The Bush administration made Iraq "vulnerable to foreign occupation," he said.

But many Iraqis said they feared a withdrawal of US troops. Republican John McCain has said he opposes any deadline for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. Obama has said he would like to see US combat troops leave Iraq by mid-2010, although his stance has softened as the election campaign wore on.

But at the same time, lessening violence could make Obama's vision of a gradual withdrawal more acceptable.

"We are still in a great need for the American troops in Iraq and any sudden pull of troops will lead the country to a civil war," said Wessam Rashid, 28, a teacher.

"Different political groups are willing to fight vicious battles to get to power," he said, referring to killings and death threats against Christians in Mosul, which drove thousands of Christians to flee in October.

Some Iraqis see the US as a mediator between its factions, protecting minorities from aggression by the majority groups, and see Bush's policy towards the country improving.

"Any change in the direction of American policy towards Iraq will create chaos, especially because Bush's policies had become more objective over the past year which was positively reflected on the security situation in Iraq," said Hamid Fadel, assistant chairman of the political science department in Baghdad University.

Security in Iraq has improved toward the end of Bush's term after the US began to cooperate with Sunni sheikhs against al-Qaeda.

But even with recent improvements, Iraqis dislike Bush so much that they would welcome any change.

"Although Bush did Iraqis a favor of toppling Saddam Hussein, he also brought the country backwards after the invasion," he said. "Occupation is a thing that most Iraqis can't stand or tolerate."

As violence drops, the goals for Iraq's cabinet are becoming more in agreement with Obama's vision for Iraq, said Tariq Harb, president of Iraq's Organization for Legal Knowledge.

"I think the government of Iraq, in its current dealings with the long-term security pact, is more in line now with Obama's program," he said.

Iraq may even be waiting to sign the status of forces agreement, which governs the presence of US troops in the country, until after the presidential election, he said.

Obama's popularity is also boosted in Iraq by a historical preference for Democrats, Iraqis said.

Samia al-Nouami, the retired government employee, said she thought Democrats had dealt wisely with foreign policy, especially toward Iraq, and that Republicans had a "violent and aggressive foreign policy."

Fadel echoed her thoughts, saying: "Republicans put a heavy weight on the country's foreign policy as opposed to the Democrats who focus on the US internal affairs."

Iraqis remember Democratic presidents such as Jimmy Carter, who during his term oversaw the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and Bill Clinton, who oversaw an oil-for-food programme under which Iraq enjoyed an improvement in its economic situation.

After years of war, a lawyer in power rather than a former military man would give more hope to Iraqis, Harb said.

"I would chant 'Obama, Obama' because he is a lawyer concerned with the Iraqi case, unlike McCain (who is) a military man who supports the politics of occupation," he said.

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