US under 50,000 - Iraqis ‘down’ on drawdown

BAGHDAD, Aug 24, (Agencies): A majority of Iraqis believe it was the wrong time for a major withdrawal of US combat troops, a poll said on Tuesday, with more than half also warning that it would have negative consequences.

When asked if it was the right time for American soldiers to leave — the US military earlier confirmed troop numbers in Iraq had fallen under 50,000 for the first time — 59.8 percent said no, compared to 39.5 percent who said yes.

Some 53.1 percent of respondents said they disagreed with President Barack Obama’s decision last year to end the combat mission in Iraq on Aug 31, a move that triggered a major reduction in the US military presence here.

However, 46.2 percent of those questioned agreed with the decision.
In other questions, 51 percent said the withdrawal would have a negative effect, compared to 25.8 percent who said it would be positive.

Shortly after coming into office in 2009, Obama pledged to end combat operations in Iraq by the end of this month, bringing “Operation Iraqi Freedom” to an end, at which point troop figures would drop below 50,000.

Asked if they thought Obama cared about the situation in Iraq, 41.9 percent of those surveyed said no, compared to 39.8 who said yes. Some 15.5 percent said they do not know.
The top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, said on Tuesday that around 49,700 soldiers are
now stationed in the country.

“It will stay at that level through next summer,” he said in Baghdad.
All US soldiers are due to leave Iraq by the end of next year, under a bilateral security agreement signed by Washington and Baghdad in November 2008.

The poll carried out by the Asharq Research Centre, a private Iraqi company, was a representative nationwide sample of 1,150 people aged 18 and above in the country’s 18 provinces between Aug 15-23.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Hilal Al-Sayer on Tuesday announced that seven injured Iraqis will be treated at al-Jahra Hospital starting next Thursday upon instructions of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Eight fully-equipped ambulances are set to transfer the injured and their escorts to the hospital, as they are suffering fractures and wounds sustained during attacks witnessed recently in Basra, Al-Sayer told KUNA.

“His Highness the Amir’s initiative comes in contribution of easing suffering of the brotherly people of Iraq,” Al-Sayer said.

A suicide bomber killed two policemen and a civilian at a checkpoint in central Iraq on Tuesday, while attacks elsewhere killed two other people, security officials said.

The 6:10 pm (1510 GMT) bombing in the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba, north of Baghdad, also wounded seven people, Major Mohammed Karkhi said.
Police carried out a controlled explosion of a second car bomb left elsewhere in the city, Karkhi added.
Ethnically divided Diyala province is one of the few remaining strongholds of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In Radwaniya, west of Baghdad, an anti-Qaeda militia commander was killed by a magnetic bomb attached to his car, a defence ministry official said.

Mithaq Salman was the head of the Sahwa (Awakening) militia in the town’s Dar es-Salam neighbourhood. The bomb also wounded his brother.
It was in Radwaniya that a suicide bomber killed nearly 50 Sahwa members on July 18 as they queued outside an army base to receive their pay.

Recruited among Sunni Arab tribesmen and former insurgents, the militia is credited with having turned the tide in the war against al-Qaeda in Iraq since its inception under US military sponsorship in 2006.
It has since become a frequent target for attack by the jihadists.
In the Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City, unidentified gunmen killed a municipal employee before taking flight, a defence ministry official said.

The violence came as the US military announced that its troop strength in Iraq had been reduced to below 50,000 as Washington prepares to declare its combat mission over at the end of the month.
The remaining troops will be deployed on an “advise and assist” mission until all US forces are due to leave the country at the end of the next year.

Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate on Tuesday claimed responsibility for recent attacks on Iraqi judges, saying it was retaliating against death sentences being given to Sunni prisoners.
Insurgents using bombs and silenced weapons launched an assault against Iraqi judges on Aug 17 in Baghdad and Diyala province, killing two and wounding six, judicial sources said.
In a statement posted on a website often used by Islamist radicals, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a local al-Qaeda umbrella group, said the attacks were against those responsible for ratifying death sentences against Sunni Muslims.

“Under the guidance of the war ministry of ISI, our security groups launched ... a new coordinated charge against some of the infidel leaders who work in the criminal justice corps,” the statement said.
While overall violence has declined since the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-7 between minority Sunnis and majority Shi’ites, attacks still occur daily as a Sunni Islamist insurgency opposed to Shi’ite dominance of Iraq persists.

The ISI on Friday claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on an army recruitment centre in Baghdad in which at least 57 recruits and soldiers were killed.

These attacks occurred ahead of the Aug 31 end to US combat operations in Iraq, a milestone in the war launched by former president George W. Bush 7-1/2 years ago.

US and Iraqi security officials say the attacks are aimed at stoking tensions after an election in March that produced no outright winner and, as yet, no new government.

They are also a message to supporters that the groups remain effective despite a series of blows to al-Qaeda’s network, including an April raid that killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Iran’s influence in Iraq has been exaggerated and Tehran’s efforts to shape parliamentary elections in the country “utterly failed,” US Vice-President Joe Biden said on Monday.
In a speech to veterans, Biden played down Iran’s role in Iraq, defended the scaled-back US mission in Iraq and argued that the country was on the road to political stability.
“Iranian influence in Iraq is minimal. It’s been greatly exaggerated,” Biden told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“The Iranian government spent over $100 million trying to affect the outcome of this last election to sway the Iraqi people, and they utterly failed,” he said, referring to the March polls.
“And it’s because politics and nationalism has broken out in Iraq. The Iraqi people voted for their desired candidates, none of whom, none of whom — let me emphasize this — none of whom were wanted by Iran.”

Biden said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his rival for the premiership, Iyad Allawi, were both deemed “persona non grata” by the authorities in neighboring Iran.
US officials and some lawmakers in Congress have previously voiced concern about Iran’s role in Iraq.
Biden also offered an optimistic view on the aftermath of Iraq’s inconclusive March 7 general election, even though political leaders so far have failed to form a new government amid disputes over power-sharing.

He said he was optimistic about the outcome of the negotiations in Baghdad.
“This process can sometimes be frustrating and there are ups and downs, but I’m here to tell you I’m absolutely confident that Iraq will form a national unity government that will be able to sustain that country,” he said.

He said that he had urged party leaders to forge an accord and “made it clear to the leading politicians that it’s time for them to match the courage of their citizens by completing this process.”
Responding to critics who have warned against the US troop withdrawal, Biden said that violence was at lower levels compared to four or five years ago.

“Some said that our drawdown would bring about more violence. Well, they were wrong, because the Iraqis are ready to take charge,” he said.

Al-Qaeda’s network in Iraq and Shiite militants still posed a threat, “but they have utterly failed to achieve their objective, which was to inflame an additional round of sectarian conflict and undermine the election that just took place and stop the formation of a new government.

“They have failed,” he said.
The last US combat brigade pulled out of Iraq last week, as the US military reduces troop levels to 50,000 by Sept 1 under a new “advise and assist” mission laid out by President Barack Obama.
Obama, who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and promised as a candidate to withdraw US forces as quickly as possible, has insisted the drawdown is on schedule and will not be altered.

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