Iraqis React to US Pullback from Cities

This piece first aired in July, 2009, as part of the show, “A Rising Threat.”

Listen here.

    HOST: This past week, the US withdrew its entire combat forces in Iraq from the country’s urban centers, leaving Iraqi security forces in charge. War News Radio spoke with Iraqis to try and figure out how they perceived this change. Louis Katz and Emily Hager have the story. Here’s Louis.

    LOUIS KATZ: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki touted the US pullout as a victory for Iraq and its people. Many Iraqis agreed with him, holding huge celebrations in the streets to mark the holiday.


    LOUIS KATZ: People stayed up late at night to cheer the greater independence that accompanied the US withdrawal. The withdrawal is, at the very least, an important symbolic step as the US transfers security responsibilities to the Iraqis.

    But in spite of parades and fireworks, not everyone shared in the June Thirtieth festivities.

    ABDULRUTHA ALMOOSAWI: I didn’t do anything in the whole day, just stayed in my home.

    RANDA HAITHEM: I cleaned the house, and I made a cake, and set up my little swimming pool.

    TAHSEEN HASSAN: I was staying at my home, because it is a holiday, there is no job, and there is military troops around most of Baghdad’s streets. So I preferred to stay at my home.

    LOUIS KATZ: The hot Iraqi summer and a desire to relax were reason enough for many Iraqis not to leave their homes on the holiday. But other more serious concerns lingered as well.

    Abdulrutha Almoosawi, a student at the Agricultural College in Basra, is one of those who stayed home. He expressed reservations about the US withdrawal from Iraqi cities. His own experiences lead him to believe that the Iraqi security forces aren’t well enough prepared to take over.

    ABDULRUTHA ALMOOSAWI: The Iraqi army can’t solve it. I say for you, the situation that I saw in my eyes, something wrong that happened in the street, in our street, near us, somebody that was killed in front of the Iraq army, and the Iraqi army don’t do anything and don’t solve this problem that happened in our street.

    LOUIS KATZ: Almoosawi is not alone in his views. Randa Haithem works as a translator in a law office in Baghdad. She says that despite good training from US soldiers, Iraq isn’t quite ready for the job.

    RANDA HAITHEM: The Iraqi forces, they can’t protect our country without the backing of the US forces, because the situation will blow up again and there is many volatile areas in Iraq. And the criminal acts will start again.

    LOUIS KATZ: Not every Iraqi thinks that Iraqi forces need US backing. Bilad Abbass, a government employee in Baghdad, believes that the Iraqi army has already demonstrated its capability.

    BILAD ABBASS (voiceover): I don’t think our army is weak or shaky. I think it is a strong and organized army. The army has proved itself in battles in Basrah and Najaf, and in other areas. They have been able to clean areas of militia activity without support from the US forces.

    LOUIS KATZ: Hayder Saadi, a medical student from Baghdad, believes that the absense of US forces will actually improve the quality of the Iraqi security forces.

    HAYDER SAADI: Security will be better once the Iraqis get involved. Recently, we’ve seen security improve, step by step, because the Iraqis are involved mainly in the major operations.

    LOUIS KATZ: Saadi thinks that US forces lack an essential attribute, one that Iraqis naturally possess.

    HAYDER SAADI: They can’t build trust with people, they can’t understand their languages and traditions – Iraqis are better in this sense.

    LOUIS KATZ: The lawyer Haithem works with, Tahseen Hassan, agrees that US soldiers can sometimes provoke Iraqi civilians.

    TAHSEEN HASSAN: The real problems happened because the American troops were inside the cities. There is aggressive acting, from the troops. For example, when the tanks walk in the street, they hit with the civilian cars, with people, with houses, so that will kill many people and that leads to many problems.

    LOUIS KATZ: Zeyad Tariq, who works at a shoe store in Mosul, sees another reason violence will decrease without the US presence.

    ZEYAD TARIQ (voiceover): The US withdrawal takes away the pretext some groups use when they commit attacks in the cities. Because now, the US troops are outside the cities, so if one commits an attack he is not doing it for the purpose of resistance, but to cause destruction.

    LOUIS KATZ: But while Tariq remains optimistic about the transition towards Iraqi control, he concedes that the Iraqi security forces have their own problems.

    ZEYAD TARIQ (voiceover): I do think the Iraqi security forces can control security, but some of those forces have sectarian alliances, and so people’s trust in these forces is somewhat shaky, especially in Baghdad.

    LOUIS KATZ: Tahseen Hassan, the Baghdad lawyer, also believes that the Iraqi forces need to work on building trust if they want to be seen as better than the Americans.

    TAHSEEN HASSAN: The big officer of the Iraqi army, when they’re around with their troops and humiliate the Iraqi people in bad ways. For example, for me, I am a civilian man, there is no difference for me. If I see occupation forces or Iraqi, it is no difference for me.

    LOUIS KATZ: Regardless of Iraqis opinions on the US withdrawal, most are cautious about its potential effects. Zeyad Tariq has noticed a shift in the way people in Mosul go about their everyday lives.

    ZEYAD TARIQ (voiceover): You can feel that there is less traffic in the streets. People are very cautious about their safety. They think that some armed groups might exploit the event and stage big attacks, considering the Iraqi forces are not completely ready for this. People are worried that there will be a security gap when the US forces withdraw, and some terrorist groups will exploit this by destabilizing the situation. But thank God, in Mosul today, nothing happened.

    LOUIS KATZ: Tariq believes that the pullout is good for Iraq. But he acknowledges that the Iraqi government needs to make the most out of the opportunity if Iraq is truly going to prosper.

    ZEYAD TARIQ (voiceover): The US withdrawal is a big step, and the government must use this chance to further reconcile with the groups outside of the political process. This would help the country overcome the sectarian strife, partisan politics, and free itself to start building Iraq.

    LOUIS KATZ: Whether or not Iraq is ready, this transition is an unavoidable step as the US looks to reduce its involvement in the country.

    For War News Radio, this is Louis Katz with Emily Hager.