Baghdad Residents: Early Pullout a Disaster

In light of President Bush's latest comments on Iraq, few residents of Baghdad seem to share the president's optimism about the prospects of success, but many say a premature pullout of U.S. forces would lead to disaster.

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In Baghdad, Iraqis are largely unaware of the political jostling that's going on here in the U.S. Their main concerns are basic services and the ongoing security crisis. Still, many Iraqis think pressure from Washington is setting their political leaders up for failure.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from the Iraqi capital.

JAMIE TARABAY: Businessman Riyad Kafin(ph) rushed to open his interior decorating store for a few hours today before the Friday curfew went into effect shortly before noon. He says he missed President Bush's remarks on Iraq yesterday, but quickly adds that he couldn't cared less.

Mr. RIYAD KAFIN (Businessman): (Through Translator) Nothing good has happened. Three years ago, when Bush gave a speech, we were told the whole state of Iraq would improve dramatically. But day after day, year after year, nothing has happened. That's why I don't care anymore.

TARABAY: Iraqi politicians matter even less in Kafin's eyes. For him, the stalemate in parliament and the power grabs by party leaders are costing Iraqis their lives.

Mr. KAFIN: (Through translator) The parties have caused all the problems. They don't cooperate and they are busy with things that don't concern the people. There is no progress at all. Every day, things get worse.

TARABAY: Iraq's parliament will be in summer recess for most of next month. And lawmakers do not expect benchmark legislation like the oil law to come to the floor before September. They blamed the delay on Iraq's cabinet and the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki is seen by many Iraqi analysts as politically weak and unable to push the main parties towards consensus.

Hassan Darwood(ph) is a retired teacher with leathery skin, who now runs a hardware store. It's oppressively hot in his shop. Electricity output in Baghdad is still below pre-war levels. And as he fans his sweaty face, Darwood says he's had enough.

Mr. HASSAN DARWOOD (Retired Teacher): (Through translator) No electricity, no water, everything is going backwards. You live in a different reality. We're tired of speeches because they're all lies.

TARABAY: But at his cigarette store, Mosen Ritter(ph) is more charitable towards Iraq's leaders. He says the government in Baghdad is still new and inexperienced. He says Washington's benchmarks are impossible for Baghdad to meet.

Mr. MOSEN RITTER (Cigarette Store Owner): (Through translator) There is no way they can do what the U.S. Congress wants. They don't have the ability.

TARABAY: Reacting to Thursday's statements in Washington, Iraqi officials claimed progress is being made, and the government is on track. One spokesman told Arab televisions, laws aimed at national reconciliation would be drafted by the end of the year. According to Washington's benchmarks, that legislation should already have been enacted.

Meanwhile, sectarian violence continues to claim lives here despite White House assertions of progress. The interior ministry reports police recovered 21 unidentified bodies in Baghdad today, all victims of sectarian death squads. A car bomb killed two and wounded six. And an Iraqi reporter for The New York Times was shot dead on his way to work. Khalid Hassan had worked for the paper for four years. He was 23 years old. The third Iraqi media employee killed in the last two days.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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