|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Iraqi Views on US Politics
|February 24, 2009, /12:30 am/
We Are All Republicans Now
By Steven Lee Myers
MAHMUDIYA– Inside a tribal guest house near here, shaded by palm trees
and surrounded by irrigated fields of barley and wheat, the talk over
tea the other day quickly turned to politics. Not Iraq’s, America’s.
Sheik Moyad Fadhel Hussein al-Ameri, one of three brothers who were the
hosts, said he was worried. A former mayor of Mahmudiya, he has a
politician’s acuity. And with it, he has closely tracked President
Barack Obama’s early statements on Iraq.
“President Obama is always talking about change,” he said, dressed in
traditional robes and headdress and seated in one of the plush arm
chairs that ringed the long greeting hall. “We would like to know what
While much of the world has welcomed the inauguration of Barack Obama,
providing him an international honeymoon after eight years of President
Bush, the reaction has been as fractured as society here.
Many Iraqis, too, welcomed Mr. Obama and his campaign pledge to withdraw
American troops on an accelerated schedule of 16 months. For others,
though, President Bush’s departure has created uncertainty, and with
uncertainty often comes fear.
“Before Obama was elected, we had eight years of dealing with
Republicans, and we trusted them a lot,” Sheik Moyad said. “Even when a
new government comes, we remember this history.”
In a region that until recently was part of an area south of Baghdad
known as the Triangle of Death, the Americans are still seen as the
guarantors of a precarious peace, even if they have increasingly turned
over security to the Iraqi Army and police.
“It’s impossible to turn back,” another guest, Sheik Saadoun Mushassin
al-Klabi, said of the violence that between 2004 and 2007 gave this
region south of Baghdad its notoriety. That said, he went on: “I don’t
think a fast withdrawal is coming soon. This is the commitment of the
United States. And I don’t think the United States is gambling.”
The country, he explained, still needs the Americans to train the Iraqi
security forces, to build an air force, to secure its borders from
neighbors that, in his view, remain a threat. He anticipated an American
relationship to Iraq that would not change as drastically as many
assume, here and in the United States.
“I believe American policy is like building a house,” he said. “When you
build a house, you should have a good foundation. We have a good
foundation, even if there is change in the design.”
The gathering, as it turned out, was a partisan one. “We are all
Republicans,” Mr. Ameri’s brother, Najim, interjected, and everyone in
the hall laughed.
Sheik Moyad later showed a photograph of him with John McCain, taken
during one of the senator’s visits to Iraq in 2007. (Sensing the
changing political winds, perhaps, he also produced a picture with two
visiting Democratic congressmen, but he couldn’t remember their names.)
“What about the economic collapse?” another Ameri brother, Ali,
interjected. Will the need to cut spending affect Mr. Obama’s decision
about reducing the troops here? Sheik Moyad expressed surprise about the
new administration’s response to the crisis, the deep American
intervention in its industries.
He compared Mr. Obama to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the
Soviet Union, and his policy of perestroika, or change, only in reverse.
“You’re becoming socialists!”
The Ameri brothers are Shiite Muslims in a region that is only now,
hesitantly, knitting back together the main sects of Islam after a near
descent into civil war. Both sects on this day were represented in the
room. The gathering sounded at times like Iraq’s version of a Rotary
Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting. Sheik Saadoun, in fact, is the
chairman of Mahmudiya’s business council, created only six months ago in
yet another tentative sign of recovery.
“We need American expertise to support our people,” he said, venturing
to think of more than just security. “This is a very important stage. We
don’t need to lose what we have gained.”
Mahmudiya, he said, had great economic potential, an agricultural bread
basket on the southern gateway to Baghdad. When that potential is
realized, everyone seemed to agree, the American troops could leave Iraq.
“When we see American companies,” Najim al-Ameri, a poultry farmer,
added, “then we will know security is good.”