Iraqis increase calls for US troops to leave
Iraqis are increasingly calling on U.S. forces to leave their troubled nation, emboldened by a newly elected parliament and the growing presence of their blue-uniformed police forces — even though the new Iraqi leaders say it's too early to talk about a U.S. pullout.
The calls gained momentum when Shiite and Sunni religious clerics called for protests to mark the two-year anniversary of Baghdad's fall, prompting four days of demonstrations across the country.
Still, some Iraqis say it's too early for the Americans to leave because Iraqi forces aren't ready for the daily attacks that have killed thousands in the past two years of the insurgency.
"If the Americans leave Iraq now, the political forces will fight each other in order to get power and the victims will be the Iraqi people," said Rashid Abass, a 61-year-old waiter.
Even the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, which has been accused of ties to insurgents, has called for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, not an immediate exit.
On Sunday, protesters shouted anti-American slogans in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of the capital. A day later, a similar demonstration was held in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
On Tuesday, in the troubled city of Samarra, tribal, city and religious leaders gathered along with students in the shadow of a spiral minaret, throwing rocks at U.S. tanks and shouting for the Americans to leave.
"The Iraqis will fight until they force (the Americans) to leave and let us live in peace and security," Hassan Neama, 33, said Tuesday in Baghdad. "They are the source of all of Iraq's problems. We consider the Americans our enemy, not our savior from the Saddam Hussein regime."
Some Iraqis argue the country is ready to take care of itself — after the Jan. 30 elections, the first free vote in 50 years, and last week's naming of an interim prime minister, Shiite Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
"The American troops should leave our country because there is an elected government in Iraq now. If they stay longer, things won't get any better," said Abdul Rahman Hatam, a 21-year-old cook in Baghdad. "We, as Arabs, don't accept any foreigner controlling our country."
Iraq's new leaders, however, have cautioned against a pullout, saying they need more time to train Iraqi police and soldiers whose ranks are growing each day.
The country is also still at least eight months away from electing a permanent government. New lawmakers must first write a permanent constitution by Aug. 15, and the document must be approved during a referendum in October.
In an interview with CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday, new interim President Jalal Talabani said he didn't agree with the protests, arguing that U.S. forces were needed in Iraq until the country can rebuild its security forces — something he said could take two years.
In a surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld didn't address the topic of a U.S. withdrawal. But he called on the country's new leaders to avoid delays in drafting a permanent constitution and building a strong police and army — a reminder the United States doesn't plan to stay forever.
"Anything that would delay that or disrupt that as a result of turbulence or incompetence or corruption in government would be unfortunate," Rumsfeld said.
US President Bush has refused to set a timetable for withdrawal — even though more than a dozen countries have already pulled out of Iraq and several more are considering leaving the U.S.-led coalition.
Speaking to soldiers Tuesday at Fort Hood, Texas, Bush said U.S. troops would come home only once Iraqis are able to control their country.
"Iraqis want to be led by their own countrymen," Bush said. "We'll help them achieve that objective. And then our troops can come home with the honor they deserve."
On Tuesday, Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said his country — the United States' fourth-largest coalition partner — wants to leave the country in the first few weeks of 2006, after the U.N. mandate on the multinational force in Iraq expires.