To Many Iraqis, U.S. Troops Have Not Faded Away Nearly two weeks after U.S. combat troops officially pulled out of Iraq's cities, the government in Baghdad says the arrangement is going smoothly. Many Iraqis, however, aren't so sure and are questioning why American soldiers are still on their streets.
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To Many Iraqis, U.S. Troops Have Not Faded Away

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To Many Iraqis, U.S. Troops Have Not Faded Away

To Many Iraqis, U.S. Troops Have Not Faded Away

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And as American forces in Afghanistan work against the clock, U.S. troops in Iraq try to stay on time. They formally pulled out of Iraqi cities at the end of last month. Iraqi forces formally took over. And according to Iraq's government, that shows the parties are keeping a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by 2011. What ordinary Iraqis can't understand is why they still see American soldiers on their streets.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Traffic moves along in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which has seen more than its share of trouble during the six-year-long American occupation of Iraq. After being virtually taken over by al-Qaida, it was reclaimed by Sunni Arabs who turned against the insurgents with American backing. The city is relatively safe now, and crucial reconstruction has begun.

(Soundbite of construction machinery)

LAWRENCE: But that doesn't mean there is any affection for the U.S. Army.

OMAR (Ramadi resident): Occupation, do you know, occupation?

LAWRENCE: A resident of Ramadi who gives his name only as Omar says the Americans are still seen every day in the streets, and that he's not sure they're ever leaving.

OMAR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: After June 30th, the Americans should now be gone, says Omar, but there are more in the streets than before.

He admits that security is better, which is allowing the heavy machines behind him to start rebuilding Ramadi.

But electricity and clean water are still scarce, and people still direct their anger about most everything toward the Americans, says General Tariq al-Asal, head of the police in Anbar province.

General TARIQ AL-ASAL (Head of Iraqi Police, Anbar province): There are maybe some question. Oh, this is the American. What is the 30 June. They are not understand all the agreement between the Iraqi government and the American side. We want to explain this issue in media.

LAWRENCE: American soldiers are still in Anbar and other parts of the country, says Asal, because the Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Iraq allows thousands of advisers and trainers to continue working in the cities.

But Asal admits that the Americans still haven't settled on how they'll move around the city. Soon, he says, they may be identified with special signs explaining that they're authorized by the government of Iraq.

Some confusion is understandable, says Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, who oversees the American and NATO troops still operating in Iraq's cities.

Lieutenant General FRANK HELMICK: It's a major challenge to get the information out to the Iraqi people, and it's a challenge that the government of Iraq has. They're doing an adequate job at that as well. Again, our uniforms look the same, whether you're an infantryman or whether you're a public affairs officer who's conducting a training mission or an advising mission inside one of the security ministries.

LAWRENCE: Helmick says foreign troops have been moving at night when possible, and sometimes staying put if they feel their presence will be too obtrusive.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

But patrols of Americans like this one are still seen all over the country, some of them accompanied by Iraqi troops, others on their own. And Iraqis are lodging complaints every time they see U.S. soldiers.

It's a hard job for the government to convince them that this is for the good of the country, says Ali al Dabagh, spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister.

Mr. ALI AL DABAGH (Spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister): We can't make everybody, all the people equal in understanding. Definitely there are people which - they are sensitive from seeing the Americans, there are people understanding. But at the end, it is a decision being taken in order to protect the security of the Iraqis, and it is for the benefit of the people.

LAWRENCE: And there are plenty of Iraqis who, whether they'll admit it or not, want to see Americans stick around. Abdul Jabbar Abu Risha leads the Sons of Iraq in Anbar province, the Sunni fighters who turned against the insurgency and worked with the Americans.

Mr. ABDUL JABBAR ABU RISHA (Leader of Sons of Iraq, Anbar province): (Through Translator) The withdrawal cannot be an immediate one. I know American forces have equipment and many soldiers in Iraq. We know that they have a main base with branches here and there. Gradually, the different branches will pull back, until even the base goes.

LAWRENCE: Abu Risha is confident that the American soldiers want to go home to their families and leave Iraq. But it will take time, he says.

Mr. ABU RISHA: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: They're not like a soccer team, says Abu Risha. They can't just come over here to play and then leave the minute the game is over.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Ramadi.

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