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Iraqis say they like Obama, divided on his policies

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is popular among Iraqis.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) makes a foreign policy speech on Iraq and American National Security in Washington, July 15, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (

In two dozen interviews across the country, many told Reuters a black man would understand their plight.

Obama arrived in Baghdad on Sunday on only his second trip to Iraq. He wants to bolster his foreign policy credentials and counter accusations from Republican presidential rival John McCain that he has not seen conditions in Iraq for himself.

“I support Obama. I think he is the best for Iraq and for the world ... if McCain wins I will be devastated,” said Mustafa Salah, an office worker in the southern city of Basra.

Hisham Fadhil, a doctor in northern Kirkuk added: “He is much better than others because he is black and black people were tyrannized in America. I think he will feel our suffering.”

Obama is the son of a white mother and a black Kenyan father. He refers to himself as black and often talks of his multi-cultural background.

Ordinary Iraqis are unlikely to get a glimpse of Obama, who will spend most of his time in the heavily fortified Green Zone government and diplomatic compound during his trip to Baghdad.

While violence is at a four-year low and some efforts have been made toward national reconciliation, the threat of car bomb attacks and kidnapping has not disappeared.

Indeed, Iraqis are divided over Obama’s plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops within 16 months if he wins office. Some say the policy is overdue while others are opposed because they feel Iraq’s security forces are not ready.

“What Obama said about pulling out U.S. forces is just for political gains. It is unrealistic,” said Munadhil al-Mayyahi, an independent politician in Basra.

Kamiran Mohammed, from Kirkuk, said he visited the United States recently as part of a polling watchdog to study elections. Obama would be good for Iraq, not McCain, he said.

“When I was in the United States I found Democrats are more peaceful and avoid wars,” Mohammed said.

OBAMA OPPOSED INVASION

Obama made his opposition to the U.S.-led invasion five years ago a centerpiece of his election campaign.

McCain supported President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war, and also his troop “surge” last year, which helped pull Iraq back from the brink of sectarian civil war.

“The face of America was spoilt by the Republicans and Bush. A McCain win means Bush stays,” said Zainab Riyad, a teacher.

Questions about Obama’s heritage -- he is a Protestant Christian but his Kenyan father was raised a Muslim -- and whether this background would lead to better U.S. policy in the Middle East drew a cynical response from most Iraqis.

Obama’s campaign has sought to dispel rumors he is Muslim.

“Frankly, Muslims in our society have not done anything for us,” said Mohammed Sadeq, who owns a mobile telephone store in Baghdad. Another Iraqi pointed to wars between fellow Muslims.

Others were dismissive of the U.S. presidential election in general, more concerned with the struggle of daily life in Iraq.

“For the moment I’m thinking about getting enough electricity. I do not believe either candidate will change the situation in Iraq,” said Abdul-Mahdi Hadi, a Basra teacher.

Reporting by reporters in Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk and Kerbala, Writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Dean Yates and Matthew Jones

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