Troops focus on length of stay, future policy

— -- BAGHDAD — It was 3 a.m. in Baghdad, and Sgt. Urban Jones was crowded around a 40-inch plasma TV with his fellow soldiers, waiting to see if Barack Obama would win the election.

"This is important," the 31-year-old father of one said. "This will tell me right here whether I get to go home and stay home, or whether I have to come back to Iraq again."

And then — just as the TV networks were about to declare Obama the winner — the duties of a soldier intervened. Jones was summoned to join a patrol outside the base's walls in search of a hidden weapons cache.

He wouldn't find out the result for four hours. "I came back, and they said that Obama won in a landslide," Jones said.

"I just said 'Damn!' I just felt so good, I can't even explain it."

Jones and other U.S. troops stationed in Iraq woke up Wednesday with slightly more certainty regarding their future in Iraq. Obama has advocated a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, though after recent improvements in security here there were troops — and some Iraqis as well — who voiced mixed feelings about the result.

When Ohio was called for the Democrats and Obama's victory appeared all but certain, Sgt. Richard Reyes of Brooklyn, N.Y., turned to his fellow soldiers. "You hear that guys?" he asked. "That's the sound of our money getting turned off."

Some soldiers said they feared an Obama presidency would mean less pay and benefits.

"When the Republicans took over, we got raises; our standards of living got better," said Sgt. Hugh McGonagle, 38, "That's what I'm worried about now."

Specialist Ira Harmony, 31, said Obama would give U.S. foreign policy a new face and usher in a period of diplomacy instead of war. "That's what's needed now," he said.

On the streets of Baghdad, Iraqis had equally varied reactions. Rabab Ali, a 30-year-old teacher at the Yaffa Elementary School in northeastern Baghdad, thanked God for Obama who she believes can better relate to the Arab world.

"He is a good moderate leader, and I think he can do great things," she said. "He will pull U.S. forces out of Iraq, but gradually, and change American foreign policy in a big way," Ali said.

Karim al-Anbar, a physician who serves on a U.S.-appointed neighborhood council in eastern Baghdad, fears Obama's victory will spell the end of U.S. support for Iraq.

"Obama is a defeatist who will leave Iraq all alone," al-Anbar said. "America has begun to build a new nation in Iraq and it should finish what it started."

Iraqi politicians congratulated Obama. Salim al-Jabouri, a Sunni, said Obama's win shows the world Americans practice what they preach. "America sent a message that respect for minorities and human rights is not just propaganda," he said.

Iraq's foreign minister Hoshiar al-Zebari told USA TODAY the vote "demonstrates the concept of equal citizenship at its best."

Contributing: Ali A. Nabhan