Outside column: Iraqis wary of security pact with Washington

Posted: Friday, December 19, 2008

BAGHDAD - When a journalist hurled his shoes at President Bush during a recent news conference here, he was only reflecting the attitude many Iraqis have toward the United States and the security agreement recently finalized between Washington and the government of Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki.

Under the agreement, all American troops are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Some Iraqis say that's not soon enough; others are skeptical that the United States will stick to the provisions of the agreement.

Opposition is especially strong in the northern city of Mosul, long a stronghold of the insurgency and al-Qaida in Iraq.

Muhammad Iqbal Omar, a political analyst there, said he was concerned that there was no provision guaranteeing that U.S. forces withdraw in three years.

Ibrahim Muhammad, a civil servant from the city, said he would have preferred to see an agreement calling for "an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces." Further to the north, in the Kurdish city of Erbil, Kamal Saadi, a professor at Salahaddin University, said he worried that security in the country would deteriorate after the withdrawal of American troops.

Others worry that the Kurds might lose their cherished autonomy under the agreement, which provides additional power and authority to the central government in Baghdad.

"The pact entitles the central government to be strong," said Handren Ahmad, the editor in chief of Regay Kurdistan, a weekly newspaper in Erbil. He worried that a Shiite-led government, unfettered by the presence of American forces, might be encouraged to play a more active role in the oil-rich northern part of the country.

To the far south, Walid Khalid, a lecturer at Basra University, believes the agreement will finally bring stability to the country and force Iraq to "stop blaming neighboring countries," particularly Iran, for its problems.

If there is one sentiment shared by most Iraqis, it's that they know too few of the specific details of the accord.

"We don't know if it is in the interest of the Iraqi people because we have no idea about its articles," said Akila al-Hashimi, a lecturer in al-Nahrain University in Baghdad.

And still unknown, said Hashimi, is what might change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office next month.

• Tiare Rath is an editor in Baghdad for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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