Iraqis welcome U.S. Congress vote but fear vacuum
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqis are glad U.S. soldiers could soon depart but fearful of what they might leave behind, after the U.S. Congress approved a bill linking troop withdrawals to war funding.
"U.S. forces have to leave Iraq but not now," said Abu Ali, a 47-year-old trader from the southern city of Basra, on Friday.
"The Iraqi government and its security forces are unable to control security, especially in Baghdad and its neighborhoods."
Like many, he said tying funding to a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops over the next 11 months would force Iraq's police and army units to shape up quicker.
"We demand a withdrawal but not in one go, so that there is no vacuum," said Tarek Qader, a 55-year-old retiree from the northern city of Kirkuk.
Added Baghdad student Ali Adel: "The exit of the occupation has to be preceded by the building of Iraqi forces and national reconciliation."
In a rebuke to President George W. Bush, the Democrat- controlled Congress on Thursday approved legislation linking withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq to paying for the war.
Bush has promised to veto the bill. He is sending an additional 30,000 soldiers to Iraq, mainly to back a security crackdown in Baghdad that is regarded as a last-ditch attempt to drag Iraq back from the brink of all-out civil war.
The Senate joined the House of Representatives in backing the bill that would provide about $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year while setting a deadline to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq over the next 11 months.
"I'm glad some Americans have finally realized they are no longer welcome here," said Hakim, a 25-year-old army officer in Baghdad who declined to give his last name.
SPEED UP RECONCILIATION
U.S. officials regard the Baghdad security plan as a chance to buy time for Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to speed up reconciliation with minority Sunni Arabs, who feel marginalized.
Maliki insists no timetable will be set for withdrawing the 150,000 American troops until his own security forces are ready.
"There has to be an agreement on the shape of the political map for Iraq after the U.S. forces' withdrawal since there are many pending issues ... it will result in the division of Iraq," said Abdullah Khaled from Kirkuk.
Some Iraqis said a quick withdrawal would be dangerous. "I would expect a power struggle and the increase of violence," said Mohammed Younis, a 43-year-old engineer.
Fellow Baghdadi Bassim Abdulla agreed. "Differences in Washington will encourage militants to increase their attacks after they realize Bush has lost domestic support for the war."
"The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq without ensuring Iraqi troops can provide and maintain security will result in massacres and a humanitarian disaster," said Omar al-Dulaimi, from Ramadi, in the volatile western Anbar province.
Others felt the presence of U.S. troops was fuelling the insurgency and their departure could only help.
"If the occupation leaves, all acts of violence in Iraq will end due to less suicide bombers, and the interference of neighboring countries will be unjustified," said Qassim Uthman, a 51-year-old teacher.
(Additional reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk and Aref Mohammed in Basra)
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