Bush' Optimistic View Clashes with Reality, Iraqis Says

President Bush said Thursday night that "ordinary life is beginning to return" in Baghdad. But Iraqi journalist Ayub Nuri says that optimistic outlook doesn't jibe with the chaotic reality of every day life in Iraq.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Many of the headlines from the war in Iraq have come more from Washington, D.C. than Baghdad over the past week. But for Iraqis, of course, the focus is on life at home.

Ayub Nuri is an Iraqi freelance journalist who's written articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post. But he grew up in a Kurdish family in northern Iraq and he spent three years as a fixer for foreign journalists in Iraq before moving to the United States to attend Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Mr. Nuri joins us now from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania where he's been working on a special radio project, War News Radio.

Mr. Nuri, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. AYUB NURI (Journalist): Thank you.

SIMON: President Bush said on Thursday night many schools and markets are reopening, citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence, sectarian killings are down, and ordinary life is beginning to return. Is that what you hear from friends and family?

Mr. NURI: What I hear from friends and family in Iraq is absolutely different from what President Bush said on TV and I watched his entire speech. He went to Baghdad very recently and he was there for - I don't know how long. Did he have time to go to the streets of Baghdad, to go to - even daily life of Iraqis, then he could write his report or write his speech?

I can't imagine where he and David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker get all of this optimism and words of progress from. It's a disaster - the daily life of Iraqi people, as I talked to them, and as I have seen it myself in the past four years.

SIMON: Tell us some of what you hear, Mr. Nuri.

Mr. NURI: Baghdad is a big city. People are confined most of the time to their homes or to their own immediate neighborhood. If you are not able to visit your own city to leave to go to a restaurant to have dinner with your family, what kind of progress is that? I spoke to some Iraqis two days ago on the phone, and they said that they cannot even go to a hospital. They cannot even go to a police station when they have a problem.

Some of the government institutions are infested with militiamen, and they are run by people who will respect and process the works of only those who belong to their own ethnic group or to their own tribe.

SIMON: Did the people you speak with want U.S. troops to leave or to stay?

Mr. NURI: Because the Iraqi government is not functioning, because Iraqi people do not trust the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, I believe, at this moment, they are happy that the U.S. troops are on the ground in Iraq, and at least, they keep these different militia groups, these different insurgent groups at bay. Everyone I speak to they say it will be a disaster if the U.S. troops leave.

SIMON: Sounds as if you and President Bush, obviously, have a different route of analysis but you've reached the same conclusion.

Mr. NURI: Yes, because people in Iraq I talked to, they are happier if a unit from the U.S. Army is patrolling their neighborhood. They say, at least, the U.S. forces are neutral to whatever religion sect we belong to, and they are here to patrol. But if they are patrolled by a unit from the Iraqi army, the unit might be Sunni or might be Shia, and that will affect the people in the neighborhood very badly.

SIMON: Are there differences over the country about the feelings of partition?

Mr. NURI: Generally, I think Iraqis do not like the idea of partition. They say we have a small country, and why shouldn't we be able to live together. But I think the majority of the Iraqi politicians want partition because they are Shias and they are Kurds. These people do not have any trust in one united Iraq because they haven't gained anything in their entire lives except persecution and repression from Sunni tyrant government.

SIMON: Ayub Nuri speaking with us from just outside Philadelphia. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. NURI: Thank you.

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