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Obama v. McCain: What Do Iraqis Think?

While some Iraqis cautiously look towards Obama, many believe neither candidate will withdraw from Iraq anytime soon.
 
 
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BAQUBA, Jun 24 (IPS) -- Iraqis seem divided on who they would like to see as the next U.S. president, but few believe that either will end the occupation.

"The U.S. administration has committed a big mistake in Iraq," Adil Ibrahim, a local physician in Baquba, capital city of Diyala province, located 40 km northeast of Bagdhdad, told IPS. "We hope that whoever wins the election, the new administration can mend the huge mistakes of this one."

Some wish for Barack Obama to win because he claims to represent a great change in the history of the United States.

"Being a black man, he definitely carries different thoughts about the world," Ali Hussein, a city employee, told IPS. "We sympathize with him since he has some kind of Muslim origins. He may view Arabs in a new and different way."

Adding to this view, Naser Mahdi, a secondary school teacher, told IPS, "I feel he is totally different. The world needs new blood in rulers, and we hope that he might decrease the dominating authority of the United States."

"Because the result of the race affects the lives of Iraqis, I wish that a Democrat could win the round in order to give Iraqis a better future," schoolteacher Khalid Abid told IPS. "We still hope to be viewed with care and consideration. Things surely must change in Iraq after the elections."

But Abdulla Hamid, a city resident, expressed deep concern over Obama's recent speech at the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.

"What hope is there in a man who wears the Israeli flag and calls for a Jewish state with a unified Jerusalem," Hamid told IPS. "Obama clearly couldn't care less about the Palestinians and the Arabs."

Hamid referred to the fact that Obama appeared at the speech with a lapel pin comprised of both the U.S. and Israeli flags. In his speech, Obama's call for a unified Jerusalem omitted Palestinians' demands for their share of Jerusalem, which is a sacred city for them too.

Like most U.S. citizens, most Iraqis are not familiar with U.S. foreign policy. While Obama, the Democratic presidential hopeful, calls for a shift in the U.S. policy in Iraq, neither he nor his Republican rival, John McCain, talk about changing the National Security Strategy of the U.S., or the military document Joint Vision 2020, which calls for "full spectrum dominance" of the world by the U.S. military by the year 2020.

"Full spectrum dominance" means not just total control of land, air, and sea, but also of information and of space.

"The U.S. strategy is firm and unchanging," a political analyst at Diyala University told IPS on condition of anonymity, given widespread fear of U.S. forces. "It makes no difference whether one wins or the other. The general strategy is well established, and is never affected by the changing of the president."

"I do agree with this point of view," local merchant Abdul-Rahman told IPS. "During the nineties we wished that Bill Clinton would win in order to stop the economic sanctions that caused us so much suffering. When Clinton became president, sanctions remained as they were, and even worsened."

At that time, the majority of Iraqis had wished for Clinton to be president, but year after year of sanctions left them embittered.

Barak Obama has made public statements that he will withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. But his advisors speak of plans to keep at least 60,000-90,000 troops in Iraq, and at least until 2013, the year his first term in office would end if he is elected.

Many Iraqis appear to be skeptical of the promises made by Obama.

"I'll believe the troops are gone from Iraq when they are no longer on our streets and their warplanes no longer bomb our homes," a local merchant told IPS. "All politicians are liars, even school children know this."

Ali is IPS' correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province. He works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, IPS' U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq.