What The U.S. Wants From Iraq's Elections

Who would the U.S. like to see as Iraq's next leader? Not an easy question to answer. The embassy is keeping as quiet as possible, hypersensitive to charges of meddling. As for the candidates, anyone pro-American is keeping quiet about it in an atmosphere of nationalist, anti-American slogans. The easier question might be: Who does America not want to see winning votes?

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Back to Iraq now as people in that country goes to the polls tomorrow. The U.S. hopes to avoid any appearance of favoritism or interference.

NPRs Quil Lawrence reports from Baghdad.

QUIL LAWRENCE: After years of directing both security and politics in Iraq, U.S. officials are trying to get comfortable in the backseat.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Iraqi security officials gave a press conference alongside U.S. Army General Michael Barbero.

General MICHAEL BARBERO (U.S. Army): The Iraqi security forces are fully capable of providing security for their country and for the election.

LAWRENCE: It hasnt always been a smooth transition, but Iraqis seem to be starting to believe that the USA is really ramping down its occupation of Iraq.

Ms. SARDA ALABUSHI(ph) (Candidate, Sunni Arab Party): I think they are tired from Iraq after seven years.

LAWRENCE: Sarda Alabushi is a candidate with the Sunni Arab Party. She sympathizes with the sensitivity of the Americans position.

Ms. ALABUSHI: If they interfere, some of the parties will say, oh, you are agents. And if they didnt interfere, maybe the situation will be bad. So we pray the situation will be better without any interfere(ph).

LAWRENCE: There is evidence that all of the neighboring countries are giving money and support to candidates. But American officials have been tight-lipped about their preferences. Still, the U.S. has a history with all of the major players by now. Prime Minister Maliki has had a good working relationship with several U.S. ambassadors, including current ambassador Chris Hill. Another possible for prime minister is the secular Shiite candidate Ayad Allawi. He headed the U.S.-appointed interim government back in 2004 and has connections to British and American intelligence from coup attempts against Saddam Hussein in the early 1990s.

Equally, there are a couple of candidates that it is safe to say the U.S. would not be happy with.

Mr. ABU HAIDAR(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: The nightmare for the Americans is the Sadr Movement, says a Sadr supporter named Abu Haidar. And he means that as a compliment. He proudly recalls that even Muqtada al-Sadrs father, a revered cleric, was anti-American. Abu Haidar and many people in this poor Shiite slum on the east side of Baghdad say they think the continuing violence in Iraq is engineered by the Americans as a pretext to stay. Another Sadrist, Ali Abu Aqil, chimes in.

Mr. ALI ABU AQIL(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: The American spider web covers the entire Arab world, he says, and they're aiming to keep a base in Iraq forever. Its a popular theory among Sadrists. Sadrs candidates are allied with the religious Shiite parties following a bargain they struck in neighboring Iran. If the Shiite list wins, its not clear who their prime minister would be. Some of their members are friendly with the U.S. But their list also includes Ahmed Chalabi, who over the years has fallen out with the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House.

Chalabi is about the only candidate in the elections that U.S. officials have gone out of their way to slam, accusing him of ties to Iran. But among moderate Iraqis at least, the message behind the American silence may be getting across. In the mixed Baghdad neighborhood of Yarmouk, Juad Kadam Hussain(ph) drives a taxi.

Mr. JUAD KADAM HUSSAIN: (Taxi Driver): (Through translator) The Americans want for Iraq to stabilize. But Iraq needs to join together. It needs to heal from its wounds. The Americans (unintelligible) stabilize. I think they want to go back to America to their families.

LAWRENCE: Thats what U.S. officials say they will be able to do after a successful Iraqi election, no matter who wins.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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