Afghanistan, Iraq Focus On Washington
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On this inauguration morning, we're checking in with our reporters overseas to find out what they're hearing about a Barack Obama presidency. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul. Hey, good morning.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: How closely are Afghans following this inauguration?
NELSON: Well, they're certainly talking a lot about it, especially because President Karzai is not attending. While the Nangarhar governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, who you may recall Mr. Obama visited during his trip here in July, he is attending. So there's a lot of questions about what this means and what the new relationship between the American administration is going to be with the Afghan one.
MONTAGNE: May I just ask what is the theory of why President Karzai, who one would expect to be at a presidential inauguration in America, why he isn't here?
NELSON: Well, he did have to open the parliamentary session today and deliver a speech. That certainly is one reason. What's going around on the streets is that he wasn't invited. And we were not able to ascertain whether in fact he was or wasn't.
MONTAGNE: As we know, during his campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan. He certainly expects to do so in just the coming months. What about that? How does it play with Afghans?
NELSON: People here have mixed feelings about that. They really do want the added attention. And they certainly want suicide bombings and other militant attacks to end. Plus, many Afghans really feel that Americans are more serious about winning the war here than their European counterparts. But Afghans are also worried that the new American president isn't really doing something new, but is just simply continuing the strategy of the outgoing administration, which thus far has not done anything really to secure Afghanistan against suicide attacks, widespread corruption in the Afghan government, and more importantly, I think, the economic turmoil that so many Afghans feel.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Soraya.
NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking to us from Kabul. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Baghdad. And Lulu, are Iraqis watching this inauguration closely? I mean, are they interested in this transition?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, Renee, they are, of course. Most believe he will usher in a better relationship with Iraq, and many hope he will correct the mistakes - a word they used - of the Bush administration here. Now that meant different things to different people, but the general impression of Mr. Obama, like in many places across the Middle East, is positive. People use the words diplomat, statesman. They said they thought he would be flexible and invested in solving Iraq's problems. So, generally positive and hopeful about the man himself.
MONTAGNE: Can you tell specifically what Iraqis might be expecting in the way of something different from President Obama?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: On January first, the security agreement between Iraq and the U.S. went into effect, and one of the stipulations is the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in three years. Mr. Obama in the past has said that he wants to speed that up. There was not an Iraqi that I spoke to yesterday who didn't say that the invasion of Iraq had been a mistake. Many said they felt humiliated by the continued presence of U.S. troops. But they were divided, Renee, on what should happen next. A few people voiced mistrust, saying that whatever Mr. Obama's promises, America will have a presence here forever because of the oil. So everyone is pretty much waiting to see what he does and if he fulfills his campaign promises to withdraw U.S. troops, and what exactly that will mean here in Iraq.
MONTAGNE: And Iraqi officials, what are they saying about Mr. Obama and how the government is going to be dealing with him?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: They have a very different view. There is some trepidation frankly, Renee. The fear here is that all the money and the interest is headed east to Afghanistan. Even though Iraq paid a terrible price in blood, the political class here, which really does rely in many ways on the American presence, is afraid that the interest in Iraq will evaporate and that this will become the forgotten war.
MONTAGNE: Lulu, thanks very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, speaking to us from Baghdad.
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