Iraqis Respond to Report, War Developments

As Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify on the military's "surge" operation in Iraq, we look to reaction in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday that the approach is working, but Sunni political blocs in parliament took issue with his assessment.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker aren't the only top officials going before lawmakers today to talk about the surge.

Prime Minister NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq): (Arab spoken)

SMITH: That's Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaking before Iraq's parliament earlier today. He told members of parliament that the surge is working, and he underscored his commitment to reconciling political differences between Iraq's Shiite and Sunni political blocs. Meanwhile, a poll of regular Iraqis paints a much less optimistic picture.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay joins me now from Baghdad.

What did Maliki say?

JAMIE TARABAY: In his speech to parliament, Nouri al-Maliki said that his government has succeeded in preventing Iraq from sliding towards a civil war, and he claimed that levels of violence in Baghdad had been reduced by 75 percent because of the increased military troop numbers, at least in the capital.

He did also say that it was too soon to pull out the coalition force level. He said that Iraqi security forces still need a lot more time to be ready to take over responsibilities for the entire country. So he asked for patience. And he also - one of the greatest criticisms that his opponents have of him is that he again resisted setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But he did say that, you know, the Iraqi security forces aren't ready enough to start taking over more responsibility.

SMITH: Well, how did the Iraqi parliamentary members react to this?

TARABAY: You know, the opposition and the response from the politicians basically fell along the sectarian lines and the complaints that the different ethnicities, the ethnic communities have against Maliki. The people who belong to his political party say that he answered all the questions that the parliamentarians had, very fairly and very accurately, and he was doing his job. You know, the Kurds who have stood by Maliki also said that, you know, he's doing a good job and they were happy with the responses.

But in the Sunni political blocks, they thought that he was avoiding the questions, that some of the things that he was saying were completely untrue. And the people who belong to the group that is loyal to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which has long called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, again criticized him for refusing to set down the timeline, or at least when he can expect U.S. troops to begin withdrawing.

SMITH: There's a new poll out showing regular Iraqis don't share Maliki's optimistic assessment of the surge. Tell us more about this poll.

TARABAY: It's actually being released by the BBC and ABC News. And in this poll, you know, it says there is some things in that that say, you know, between 67 and 70 percent of the Iraqis believe that the military surge has made things worse. And another one of the statistics that they have is that 85 percent of the Iraqis say they have little or no confidence in American and British forces.

My only question about these sorts of polls, it is incredibly difficult to do this kind of polling, particularly in Baghdad, you know. The aid groups and human rights organizations who try to do this sort of thing on a regular basis are, you know, find themselves in danger. I don't doubt much of what they're saying. I do believe that Iraqis are very skeptical of progress on the ground, but I have more questions about - I mean, in - for example, in places where the American forces have forged an alliance with, for example, local Sunni populations, they actually consider the Americans to be their protectors and their allies. And that goes against some of the findings in this poll.

SMITH: Well, do regular Iraqis - are they following what's happening in Washington, D.C. this week with the report on the surge?

TARABAY: They know there is something going on. But really, at the moment, the most basic kind of priority for Iraqis right now is it's going to Ramadan this week, the Muslim holy month, where the people will fast for most of the day. There's going to be a curfew in Baghdad to prevent any attacks because, you know, insurgents look at religious occasions to try and target the population, particularly people who are out in the market doing their shopping for the evening meal that breaks the fast during the day. So you know, how are people in Iraq going to get through Ramadan? This is the most kind of immediate question that they have on their minds, not really what's going on in Washington.

SMITH: NPR's Jamie Tarabay joins us from Baghdad. Thanks, Jamie.

TARABAY: Thank you.

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