Iraqis torn on troop withdrawal

The New York Times has a balanced and interesting article on how Iraqis view proposals to get American troops out of Iraq.  Most of them would like to see American combat troops out of the country, but many of those fear a too-rapid withdrawal and the chaos that would follow.  And while Iraqis see Barack Obama as a breath of fresh air, they don’t appear to like his military strategy anywhere near as much:

A tough Iraqi general, a former special operations officer with a baritone voice and a barrel chest, melted into smiles when asked about Senator Barack Obama.

“Everyone in Iraq likes him,” said the general, Nassir al-Hiti. “I like him. He’s young. Very active. We would be very happy if he was elected president.”

But mention Mr. Obama’s plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

“Very difficult,” he said, shaking his head. “Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: for now, we don’t have that ability.”

Thus in a few brisk sentences, the general summed up the conflicting emotions about Mr. Obama in Iraq, the place outside America with perhaps the most riding on its relationship with him.

Withdrawal itself is not unpopular among Iraqis; a lot of them would like Americans to leave.  Most of them recognize, though, that the Iraqi Army won’t be ready to replace US troops for quite some time.  In some Sunni neighborhoods, the mainly Shi’ite IA can’t or won’t patrol to avoid provocations.  And while the numbers of IA troops have grown significantly, most of them need a lot of training and seasoning before they can operate completely independently of American leadership and logistics — and the Iraqis have no air power at all.

What they do not want to do is to provide an opening for al-Qaeda or militias to start another round of violence.  Another Golden Mosque bombing could touch off more sectarian and tribal feuding, and without the American troops nearby, the IA would still be unlikely to contain it.  As General Hiti understands, the nation needs stability for the next several years while all of the elements of security get developed to independent status, including air and naval power, both of which the Iraqis have had to postpone in order to get its army and police reconstituted.  Otherwise, all of the gains made in the last year will evaporate, and the Iraqis will have to go back to a bunker existence.

The article doesn’t break new ground as much as it gives background for the question which will remain primary in the upcoming American and Iraqi elections.  When can the Americans end its combat stance in Iraq, and what comes afterwards?    Even the Iraqis have no clear conception of the answers, but as one said, the Americans have a moral obligation to finish what we started and make sure the job gets done right.