Baghdad Awaits Bush Speech on Iraq Policy

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Many in Baghdad doubt that a new U.S. strategy for Iraq will make a difference in the kidnappings, bombings and shooting attacks that dominate their daily lives. Many say the ongoing violence is something Iraqis will have to settle for themselves.


Some Iraqis are not waiting for President Bush's speech tonight to make up their minds.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.

(Soundbite of street noises)

JAMIE TARABAY: Mohamed Saduk(ph) is opening his carpentry store for what he hopes will be a good day at work. He already thinks the security situation can't get any worse and says he's had enough of President Bush's strategies for Iraq.

Mr. MOHAMED SADUK (Business Owner, Baghdad): (Through translator) What new strategy is he talking about? He'll only increase the number of American troops and there will only be more wars. Nothing will be resolved.

TARABAY: In Saduk's area, the shopping district of Karata, more stores are closing down and people are leaving. Until he sees a tangible difference in everyday life here, talk about new strategies - in a sense, is - is merely talk.

Outside the shop, Ismail Abu Ali(ph) sits on the curb waiting for someone to drive by and hire him for the day as a laborer. He says his neighborhood was closed off for five days because of warring militias and he couldn't go to work.

Mr. ISMAIL ABU ALI (Day Laborer, Baghdad): (Through translator) If we don't work, then we will starve. The situation is unbearable.

TARABAY: He says bringing in more troops won't help. More troops will only add to anti-American anger and provoke insurgents to attack U.S. forces even more. The solution, Abu Ali says, lies with the Iraqis themselves.

Mr. ABU ALI: (Through translator): Had there been any cooperation between the different sects, security would prevail. This is all because there is no such cooperation. Should we trust anyone who tries to fool us with slogans and propaganda? It's basically an internal feud. People have to realize that.

TARABAY: The Iraqi government has already said it welcomes the addition of U.S. troops to help it restore order in the capital. Last week Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said government forces would be in the lead and call on American backup if needed.

The people in the Iraqi government are divided on the issue. Iraqi politician Nasar al-Rubaie is the head of a parliament block loyal to anti-American leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr's militia is widely expected to be targeted in any upcoming offensive. The militia has rallied its men and intends to fight the Americans when they come. Al-Rubaie doesn't want more American troops in Iraq.

Member of Parliament NASAR AL-RUBAIE (Iraq): (Through translator) Under four years of American occupation, Iraq has not only experienced a deterioration in the security situation, but there is a total absence of security. When the Iraqis take over, we will bring things under control in record time. But if the occupation forces stay on, things will only continue to deteriorate, even if they send thousands and thousands of more troops.

(Soundbite of many men speaking foreign language)

TARABAY: But some Iraqis see government forces as militias, too. And having them enter their neighborhoods would only add to the sectarian conflict that is dividing the capital.

In his supermarket, Wassid Meshab(ph) rings up cheese, milk and other groceries at the register. He had great hopes the situation would calm down after the government launched its reconciliation plan. He laments that months later nothing has changed and says this new campaign won't help.

Mr. WASSID MESHAB (Business Owner, Baghdad): (Through translator) We will follow the rules, but is this plan legitimate or is it sectarian, too? How will it help those Iraqis who've left their houses? Or the families of Iraqis who've been killed?

TARABAY: He's worried the new plan will repeat past tactics: numerous checkpoints that clogged the city streets and random nighttime raids. So far, he says, there's been a lot of security plans with no real goals and no real achievements.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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