Will Iraq Vote Set the Stage for a U.S. Pullout?

What are the implications of this week's voting in Iraq? Rami Khouri, editor at large for the Daily Star in Beirut, tells Scott Simon that a new appreciation for the democratic process could stiffen Iraqi opposition to U.S. troops.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

President Bush is scheduled to address the nation from the Oval Office tomorrow night at 9 PM Eastern. He's expected to talk about what happens next in Iraq following this week's elections there. Today, in his weekly syndicated column, Rami Khouri writes that the elections are a significant transition for Iraq and that no single act would have a better impact on Iraq's transition to sovereignty than the announcement of the beginning of US military withdrawal from that country. Rami Khouri joins us from Beirut, Lebanon.

Thanks very much for being with us, Rami.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Daily Star): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: The votes aren't counted, but explain to us why you think this is both an achievement and a time for the United States to begin to withdraw.

Mr. KHOURI: Well, the election is an important reflection of the enthusiasm of the Iraqi people to get on with the process of taking control of their own government and taking charge of their own sovereignty. The Americans, I think for their part, have to understand that the American military presence now is probably going to be a bigger obstacle than it is a positive element, because the American military presence is going to be the major reason why many Iraqis will look at their new government, possibly seeing it as only partially legitimate, as a puppet of the American system that's been installed there. So this is a real dilemma now for the United States.

And I think what the US has to do is acknowledge what has been achieved and see that Iraq is on the road to something new and start getting the American troops out of there by announcing a beginning of withdrawal and doing the withdrawal slowly over the next year, year and a half. And also the US should say that it doesn't want any permanent military bases in Iraq because the American military presence was a huge reason for the emergence of Osama bin Laden and his groups in Saudi Arabia. And similarly, an American military presence in Iraq would do the same thing, would be a magnet for terrorists and insurgents and people who see Iraq under American occupation in perpetuity.

SIMON: And, of course, we want to ask you about events in Lebanon this week where a well-known lawmaker and journalist was murdered; Syrian involvement is widely suspected. The United Nations is investigating. The United States and United Nations are threatening economic sanctions. You have a piece in the Los Angeles Times today that suggests the only problem with economic sanctions is that Syria can survive them.

Mr. KHOURI: Yes, the Syrians feel that they can withstand sanctions for quite a long time. Economically, they're in reasonably good shape. They have a lot of foreign reserves. They're quite self-reliant in many essential items in their economy. And, in fact, they would almost welcome American sanctions 'cause this would give them a rallying cry among their own people and throughout the region to make it look like they are the ones resisting this great American hegemonic ambition in the Middle East. So I think the United States has to be very careful with its partners in the Security Council to see how it can focus narrowly and clearly on continuing their investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the other people who've been killed in Lebanon since without getting that mixed up with American ideological neocon-driven agendas about regime change in Syria and Iran and other places. I think those two have to be kept separate.

SIMON: Daily Star columnist Rami Khouri in Beirut. Thanks so much.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And it's 18 minutes past the hour.

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