Iraqis Remain Suspicious About U.S. Presence


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 10, 2007 — -- There are two main audiences for President Bush's speech tonight -- the U.S. public and the Iraqi public.

Americans are getting weary of a war that is not going well and in which more than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed.

Iraqis are closer to despair, as the war has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, driven hundreds of thousands overseas, and fundamentally changed the way people who are still here live their lives.

Most Iraqis are suspicious, at best, about the reasons for the U.S. presence in the first place and are highly skeptical about whether American military force can ever restore peace to their country.

When we asked Iraqis today about the Bush plan for a troop surge in Baghdad, most thought it would make little difference. They have seen the United States increase its security operations in Baghdad before. At best, this has resulted in a temporary lull in the violence, which quickly resumes when the U.S. units move on.

For Iraqis, the normal point of contact in relation to security matters is the Iraqi police and army -- meeting a U.S. soldier who doesn't speak Arabic is far less common.

Because the Iraqi security forces have become so split down sectarian lines, ordinary people no longer trust them -- and they see little that the Americans can do to change that, given their lack of knowledge and exposure to the language and culture.

There are also many differing ideas about what the United States is really trying to do in Iraq -- conspiracy theories have always proliferated in the Middle East.

Some (mostly Shiites) think that the overall goal is to use Iraq as a base for an American attack on Iran. Others (generally Sunnis) say the United States wanted to hand Iraq over to an Iranian-influenced government. And some think the United States just wants to get its hands on Iraqi oil.

There will be some Iraqis who will quietly welcome more U.S. troops to Baghdad, at least temporarily. Surprisingly, these are mostly Sunnis.

Although radical Sunnis are running the anti-U.S. insurgency, many more moderate Sunnis in Baghdad live in daily fear of the Shiite militias, and see U.S. soldiers as their only protection.

The reality of Iraq, however, is such that because these people live in daily fear, they are the last ones who can admit -- certainly in public -- that they support an increased U.S. presence.

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