Iraqis say Petraeus is telling truth
Iraqis reflecting on the report to Congress by General David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker found themselves in a difficult spot: although there is nothing they want more than to have American soldiers leave Iraq, there is nothing they can less afford.While there seems to be an eagerness to blame Americans for the mess that al Qaeda and the Shia militia made in Iraq, there is also a recognition that they need America to make their government work. The Sunni who speak with two voices have their first one for the pollsters, and their lower voices for when they tell the truth. In fact if we were really responsible for all that damage they would not want us to stay.
About 20 Iraqis of different sects and ethnicities said in interviews that they viewed the report favorably because it — or at least the parts shown on television in Iraq — portrayed the situation accurately and because it signaled that there would be little change in the status quo.
There is a rueful recognition of their vulnerability and that they must allow foreign troops to help keep order for some time to come. Politicians’ views were more modulated, but only those allied with Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr suggested they wanted to see a rapid decline in the American presence, and even they backed away from setting a date.
A city worker in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, described his ambivalence in strong terms.
“The withdrawal of the occupation forces is a must because they have caused the destruction of Iraq, they committed massacres against the innocents, they have double-crossed the Iraqis with dreams,” said Ahmad Umar al-Esawi, a Sunni worker. “I want them to withdraw all their troops in one day.”
But, he added, dropping his voice: “There is something that I want to say although I hate to say it. The Americans forces, which are an ugly occupation force, have become something important to us, the Sunnis. We are a minority and we do not having a force to face the militias. If the Americans leave, it will mean a total elimination of the Sunnis in Iraq.
“I know I said I want them to leave, but if we think about it, then I have to say I want them to stay for a while until we end all the suspicions we have of each other and have a strong national government.”
Several people said they were certain that the trend of decreasing violence cited by General Petraeus would reverse itself as soon as the Americans left, unless the troops stayed for years and wrought a deeper change in the government and the culture.
“Violence could erupt at any moment if the Americans leave, the ones who do these terrible things are asleep, not gone,” said Sara al-Zubaidi, 30, whose father is Sunni and whose mother is Shiite. “They are waiting for the opportunity, just waiting for the opportunity to eat one another,” she said.
In contrast interviews with Iraqis three months ago, when when people refused to give a time frame for how long American troops should stay, now some say they want them for a minimum of three years and maybe even five years or more. Ms. Zubaidi thought five years would be the minimum and that the police and army needed to be remade entirely to root out sectarianism.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in his speech to Parliament on Monday acknowledged that the country was not ready for the American forces to withdraw and in subdued language voiced the views of many Iraqis.
“We quietly realize that we need more time before our security forces can take over the security dossier throughout Iraq from the multinational forces. They have played an important role in helping and backing our armed forces in fighting terror and outlaws.”
Like many legislators, he favored having any withdrawal tied to the ability of the Iraqi forces to protect civilians.
The fact is that most Shia casualties are caused by al Qaeda mass murders exploding around non combatants and most Sunni deaths are caused by Shia death squads. What the Americans have been able to do in the surge is greatly reduce casualties for both sides by removing the primary catalyst, al Qaeda. The US has not been the catalyst for violence that critics of the war have claimed. If we were the death tolls would not be going down.