Iraqis zero in on Bush's remarks

Iraqis zeroed in today on President George Bush’s pledge to stay the course in Iraq, with some expressing anger that he didn’t announce a troop withdrawal and others believing the Americans had little choice but to stick it out here to prevent civil war.

Bush declared in his State of the Union address late yesterday that “a sudden withdrawal of our forces” would abandon “our Iraqi allies to death and prison”.

He said America had little option but to “keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind the American military in its vital mission”.

That did not set well with those Iraqis who are weary of the continued violence, lack of basic services such as water and electricity and believe things would get better if the Americans went home.

“President George Bush stated that the troops wouldn’t leave the country. But it would be better for Iraqi people the US troops would get out,” Raid Fadhil said in Baghdad.

Health Ministry employee Baqir Jaafar, 52, agreed. He complained that the Americans are more interested in securing Iraq’s vast oil wealth than building a stable, democratic country.

“The United States of America didn’t come to Iraq for the sake of Iraqi people, but they are here for oil and other interests,” Jaafar said. “I think the mission of the US Army came to end when they toppled Saddam and there is no excuse for their presence in Iraq.”

However, Abdul-Halim al-Rihaimi, an Iraqi political commentator, said the United States had little choice but to stand fast in Iraq – otherwise the country would descend into civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shiites.

He said American forces should stay until Iraqi police and soldiers are ready to deal with extremist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or Saddam Hussein loyalists from the Baath party underground.

“Any retreat of the (coalition) forces now would be considered premature and would see the whole country fall into the hands of the al-Zarqawi group and those from the previous regime,” he said. “That would plunge the country into chaos for years.”

Another Baghdad resident, Ali Hussein, said he was no longer bothered by the US troop presence in Iraq, but said the longer they stay “will hurt us more”.

Businessman Thair al-Obaidi, 50, criticised the United States and the militants for fighting out their war in his country.

“President Bush and his adversaries like al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden are always showing off their muscle with such statements against each other, but the only loser of this is the Iraqi citizen,” al-Obaidi said.

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