How Do Iraqis Feel About The Troop Withdrawal?

Oct 21, 2011
Originally published on October 22, 2011 12:34 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, to a view of today's announcement from Iraq. Their officials were quick to make one thing clear. The agreement to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq will not be renegotiated.

NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad on the politics behind today's move.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Iraqi state TV broke the news by saying the 2008 agreement will now be activated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: A spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called it a victory for both sides. Right up to the end, most Iraqi officials privately said they wanted to keep some American troops here, particularly in the north where tensions between Arabs and Kurds still run high and to give Iraqis some assurances that violence between Shiites and Sunnis won't break out again.

But it was a very different story in public. In order for troops to remain into next year, a new agreement needed to be reached in Iraq's parliament to provide those troops with immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

This touched a nerve with the Iraqi people, especially with America's main enemy, the Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Now that Sadr's party holds dozens of seats in parliament, it's thought that any extension of American troops in Iraq was a red line for him and for his backers in Iran. Analysts say the immunity question was enough to push public opinion in Sadr's favor.

SAMIRA JIHAD AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Simra Jihad Ahmed's brother-in-law was driving down an alley one day back in 2004 and he was shot in the forehead and killed by an American soldier.

AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: We appreciate that the Americans got rid of Saddam and tried to bring us peace, she says, but it's also a question of dignity. We can't let them keep on hurting innocent people.

As of right now, there are about 39,000 American troops in Iraq. Base closings and handover ceremonies have become the norm. About 500 soldiers leave each day.

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MCEVERS: At a recent ceremony, one American general directed his thoughts to his Iraqi counterparts. We have given you the gift of democracy and the chance to determine your own future, he said. That gift has come at a great cost.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.