As U.S. troops move on, Iraqis fear the coming turmoil

BAGHDAD — The guys with the guns and bombs and best-laid plans may think the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from major Iraqi cities will work.

But some ordinary Iraqis harbor another idea.

"They're terrified," said one U.S. soldier who works with Iraqi army and police units in the capital city. "They know there are more bad guys out there than good guys."

"We will be happy to see the American forces go, but I feel there is more stability in their presence," said Husam Ayid, 27, in Tikrit in northern Iraq. "The armed groups (insurgents) will become more active — and we don't know who or what side they will target."

Added Buraq Alsa'idi, 32, an unemployed man in Basra in southern Iraq: "I don't trust the Iraqi forces on the issue of security. I'm worried they will collapse because they are mostly unprofessional and infiltrated."

The American drawdown sparks mixed emotions among many Iraqis. On the one hand, they see the move as a further step toward regaining the sovereignty they lost when the U.S. invaded the country in 2003. On the other, they're not overly confident about the ability — or even the willingness — of the Iraqi army and national police to take over their safety.

Even an army officer, Khalid Younis, 27, in Mosul, has doubts. "I am a little concerned at this early withdrawal because I don't believe that the Iraqi Security Forces are ready. They are inexperienced, especially about fighting terrorism."

A lawyer in Mosul expressed reservations about how real the American withdrawal would be. "I believe they (Americans) will still be in command where it counts," said Ali Mejeed, 47. "As long as the occupation continues, I will not breathe easily — not until they are completely out of the county."

Part of the Iraqis' concern is that more and more of them see the main issue facing their society as corruption, not security. Examples surface every week of a public servant or private employer enriching himself at the expense of the people. These episodes erode their confidence in the Iraqi government's ability and honesty.

The Sons of Iraq, for example, were paid by the Americans not to fight, a move that helped quell much of the insurgency in 2007-08. Now the government is supposed to pay them, but some citizens question whether the money will ever filter down to the onetime insurgents.

With joblessness plaguing hundreds of thousands of young Iraqi men, it's tempting for them to make money from insurgent groups. After a bomb killed 72 and injured 140 or so at a Sadr City marketplace, young men threw bricks at Iraqi police and chanted, "How much are they paying you?"

Mohammed Abulazziz, 34, from Baghdad, thinks Iraqi security forces will be able to handle the situation. "I think Iraqis will be better than the American especially if they are armed well," he said. "The prestige of the Iraqi soldier is higher than an American's because he is an occupier."

(Special correspondents in Diyala, Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit and Mosul contributed to this report, which was edited by Mike Tharp, executive editor of the Merced Sun-Star, on assignment in Iraq.)


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