Iraqis Cautious Ahead Of Major U.S. Troop Drawdown The U.S. will formally declare an end to its combat mission in Iraq at the end of this month. Just 50,000 troops will remain in the country while the U.S. prepares a full withdrawal. So how do Iraqis feel about the impending drawdown?
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Iraqis Cautious Ahead Of Major U.S. Troop Drawdown

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Iraqis Cautious Ahead Of Major U.S. Troop Drawdown

Iraqis Cautious Ahead Of Major U.S. Troop Drawdown

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

American troops are not the only people trying to get out of Iraq. Some Iraqi citizens are also looking to leave. And many Iraqi refugees are still waiting for a sign that they can return.

INSKEEP: So we're going to talk about security in Iraq as the U.S. reduces its presence there. Fifty-thousand U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for some time but after this month, their mission will be limited.

MONTAGNE: The U.S. is drawing down its forces in a country where security remains uncertain. You can sense that just by learning the daily routine of Nada Naji, who works for NPR in Baghdad.

Ms. NADA NAJI (Translator, NPR, Baghdad): The first thing, I check my car - if there, somebody plant an IED. So I check around and under the car. And then I move carefully in the street. I never stop long time in checkpoints. I never take the street twice at the same day. I start not even - not to trust my neighbors, you know, because I'm afraid that someone know I'm where I work or where I go, so it's really hard. It's really difficult, especially for my kids.

MONTAGNE: And your children, 5 and 3 years old - too tiny to really be full time in school, but I know one of your children goes to kindergarten.

Ms. NAJI: Yes. You know, I stop send him to the kindergarten because suddenly, the security forces came to the area and closed all the area so you can't get in. So if something happened, it's very difficult to go to the school to take my kids.

MONTAGNE: This is today. How does this compare to five, six years ago 2004, 2005, 2006? You know, was it much worse then?

Ms. NAJI: Before before couple of years ago, the problem was the sectarian war. You know, I know many people just displaced because the sectarian violence. It was hard days. But now, the problem is you don't know your enemy. Every day, people dying here without any reason, only because they were in wrong place and time.

MONTAGNE: Looking back...

Ms. NAJI: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: ...what was your reaction, initially, to the U.S. troops coming in the U.S. invasion?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NAJI: You know, I was very happy when the American came here and helped us to get rid from former regime. But the disappointment later is, nothing change -and the suffering of people is just increased.

MONTAGNE: How do you feel, then, about the U.S. forces leaving Iraq? What does that mean to you?

Ms. NAJI: When I thought about this idea, I just as scared - because now, I at least, you know, we have the American forces, we can trust in them, they can protect us if something wrong happens. But if they withdraw and leave the country, it will be really, really risky and difficult for Iraqi people, because we still not really trust the Iraqi forces the Iraqi security forces. And I believe the Iraqi forces is not ready to keep control the situation here. It will be conflict and chaos.

MONTAGNE: Now, Nada, you are applying for asylum in the U.S. with your husband and your two little children.

Ms. NAJI: Yeah. Yes.

MONTAGNE: If you're able to leave, can you now imagine in some future, returning to Iraq and making a life there?

Ms. NAJI: You know, it was the hardest decision I ever take. I feel I'm tear apart, actually. Nobody wants to leave his home, family and friends. But when I had the chance, I decide to leave just to save my kids and find another opportunity for a better future. Now, I couldn't see a hope to return again. But who knows? After 10 years, maybe. I'm - not see that shiny future in Iraq, unfortunately.

MONTAGNE: Nada Naji works for NPR in Iraq, as a translator.

Thank you for talking with us.

Ms. NAJI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: If Nada Naji gets out of Iraq, she will join approximately 2 million Iraqis who have already left in recent years, and who intensely watch developments from abroad.

NPR's Deborah Amos wrote about Iraqi exiles in her book Eclipse of the Sunnis. She's just back from another trip to the region. She's on the line.

Hi, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So where did you meet Iraqi exiles this time?

AMOS: In Lebanon, in Damascus and in Cairo.

INSKEEP: And what are they saying as they watch U.S. troops prepare to - not entirely leave, but reduce their presence?

AMOS: It's always hard to characterize an entire community. But I think what I would say is uncertainty. Security always plays a role, as you heard, in decisions about, should I stay as a refugee? Should I leave Iraq?

There's lack of electricity that's part of that decision. There's lack of water, perhaps jobs, but there's something else that is really bothering Iraqis who are out, and that is there's a government crisis. We are now five months away from an election, and Iraq still doesn't have a prime minister. There's a caretaker government. And as these political leaders are squabbling over power, every day there is an increase in violence. You know, Nada spoke to this idea of a sectarian war, and now it's random.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And you're talking to people who already felt that it was too insecure for them to return to Iraq. Does the departure of some U.S. troops make them even less likely to leave the camps and cities where they've been?

AMOS: For Iraqis, the truth is, Americans left last June when U.S. troops pulled out of the cities. You really don't see American troops in Baghdad or in any cities anymore. So it's not that American troops will come and protect people if something goes wrong in Iraq. They're already gone. But psychologically, many Iraqis are worried that this is yet another moment of insecurity. They don't know what's going to happen and so for them, it is worrying when the troop levels go down.

INSKEEP: Very much like we heard from Nada Naji, when she said: When I thought about this idea - the troops leaving - I was just scared; it's just a scary thing to think about.

AMOS: Yes, because it is one more sense of insecurity at a time when you have a government crisis.

INSKEEP: And let's just emphasize here, is this turning into almost a permanent refugee population, a permanent population of Iraqis who will be outside their country the same way that there are Palestinians who have been outside of the Palestinian territories for decades now?

AMOS: It begins to look that way. Not that there was ever a flood of returnees, there wasn't, but 2010 has been less than 2009. And people are making this calculation, that as long as there's a government crisis as the Americans draw down, why would you go back now? It is not easy to be a refugee. It's likely that your kids are out of school. It is likely that your diet is a mess, that you're probably eating mostly, you know, sugared tea and bread, for at least two of those meals. The international community's largesse - while never large, is less. People want this crisis to be over.

INSKEEP: And I suppose if you had another round of sectarian warfare, you'd have to be prepared for that possibility of another million people coming across the border at some point.

AMOS: You know, 18 months ago, that was the nightmare scenario - as Americans drew down, there would be a return to the full-out sectarian war. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. However, it is this randomness of the violence and, more important, it is the inability of this government to find some power-sharing agreement between Sunnis and Shiites.

As you know, the majority of the refugees outside are Sunnis and Christians. They are watching a government that cannot come to terms with a Sunni-backed political coalition that won the most seats in Parliament, and yet has not been able to use that power to come into the prime ministership. Every country in the region is now meddling in Iraq because of the weakness of the state. And so it is very difficult for them to consider returning. Better to wait, better to wait and see what happens.

INSKEEP: Deb, thanks for your insights.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deborah Amos is author of "Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East."

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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