Friday, July 20, 2007
Iraq - Quit or Stay
The streets of Iraq are filled with anxiety and war weariness -- much of it hinging around the question of whether U.S. troops should stay or go. Some say the sooner they get out, the better. Others say the soldiers are needed to prevent a sectarian bloodbath.
"If they leave today, the militias will take control of the country. Neither the American soldiers or the Iraqi Army or the police can protect us," Mongeb Alnaieb told CNN from his modest apartment in central Baghdad.
Alnaieb represents a unique perspective here. He is Sunni; his wife is Shiite. Both agree the U.S. military should stay in Iraq to fix the chaos they say the American occupation has created.
They have three sons and say they do not feel comfortable letting them walk in Shiite neighborhoods anymore. One of their sons had a typically Sunni first name, so he changed it to the less distinctive "Ahmed" -- a way of making sure that his ID card will not give him away if he is stopped by militias.
With debate raging in Washington and across America about an exit strategy for U.S. troops, it remains a hot topic of discussion on the streets of Iraq -- where the effects of a pullout would be most felt.
Most people who spoke to CNN said they follow U.S. political news closely. They say what happens in America and what is decided with regards to the war in their country will have a direct impact on their lives.
There is no shortage of people who say the American troops should leave, and leave now.
"They came and destroyed the country, nothing less nothing more. It was them who started this sectarianism in the country," said a man in a majority Shiite neighborhood.
He would not give his name. Many other Iraqis who spoke with CNN agreed that the continued American troop presence is hurting their country.
"It is true when they first came, they got rid of the former regime, the Baathists. They got rid of them, but they didn't provide us with security and stability in Iraq. They destroyed the Iraqi economy, they destroyed Iraq," another man said.
Iraq's leaders are feeling the heat too. Facing increasing pressure from the United States to do more internally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Saturday shot back at his naysayers, defending his government and the progress made by Iraqi security forces.
"We will be able to, God willing, completely take the full responsibility of the security situation when the international forces pull out -- anytime they want," he said.
The White House last week reported mixed progress on al-Maliki's government to meet 18 U.S.-set benchmarks. The U.S. House later voted to require a troop withdrawal from Iraq by April 2008.
Another progress report is also due in September from Gen. David Petreaus, the top American commander in Iraq.
Hussain Fallouji, a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament, told CNN the idea that the Iraqi government can meet the benchmarks in three months "is a mere illusion." He also blasted al-Maliki.
"Maliki cares so much about pleasing Bush, but he doesn't care one bit about his own parliament," he said.
Back at the apartment complex in central Baghdad lives Munthar Nader, a Shiite. He used to be a cab driver, but says he was shot while driving on the dangerous road between Baghdad and Mosul. His car was stolen after the attack and he is now unemployed.
Nader's brother was murdered last year in a sectarian killing. He says his brother was on his way to work one morning and never returned. Nader identified his brother's body at the city morgue the next day.
Despite the violence his family has suffered, he says the Americans should stay in Iraq.
"If I do not see U.S. forces in front of me, I feel scared. Honestly, I feel scared,” he says. “The terrorists [are] afraid of U.S. forces along with Iraqi forces, so I prefer for them to stay.”
Nader is now taking care of his brother's two children. His mother also lives with him. Whether the U.S. military stays or goes matters little to her now.
"The dearest person to me was killed and he was my son. Now I do not care about anything. His children became orphans," she says, her eyes watering.
Above the television set in the Nader household, there is a picture of a dead son -- and the hopeless realization that no political benchmark or military strategy will ever bring him back.
Watch my report
-- From Hala Gorani, CNN International Anchor, in Baghdad.
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