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Life after U.S. pullout brings worries for Iraqis
Sun Jun 28, 2009 10:47am EDT
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By Daniel Wallis
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Sitting in his small room in northern Baghdad, a pistol nearby and assault rifles stacked under the bed, Khalil Ibrahim is worried over Iraq's future.
Six years after the U.S. invasion, Iraqis are contemplating the reality of life after a major milestone -- Tuesday's withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from urban centres.
Glancing at his seven-year-old son playing a war game on a computer in the corner, Ibrahim, a chain-smoking former military intelligence officer, said he has two main worries.
"Iran has good relations with our political parties. They run militias. If the U.S. troops complete their withdrawal, Iran will do whatever it wants in Iraq," he said, scowling.
Shi'ite-ruled Iran is often accused of arming and funding Shi'ite militias who have killed Sunnis, a charge Tehran denies.
"Also, if the Americans pull out, al Qaeda will return," Ibrahim said. He knows the Islamist militants better than most.
As leader of a U.S.-backed Sunni Arab guard unit made up of many former insurgents, some of his men fought with the rebels against the U.S. military, before switching sides and helping drive al Qaeda fighters out of much of Iraq.
But as U.S. forces increasingly hand control to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government under a security pact that requires them to withdraw completely by 2012, tensions are rising.
Violence has dropped sharply across Iraq, but militants still launch devastating bombings. They are usually blamed on Sunni Arab insurgents like al Qaeda, and seem aimed at undermining Maliki's administration and tipping the nation back into the sectarian slaughter of 2006/07.
WAVE OF BOMBINGS
The last few days have seen two of the worst attacks in more than a year. A suicide truck bomb killed at least 73 worshippers leaving a Shi'ite mosque near northern Kirkuk city on June 20. Four days later another blast tore through a market in Baghdad's Sadr City, a Shi'ite slum, killing 72 people.
The government has warned that bloodshed is likely to intensify ahead of an even more important milestone for Iraq than this week's -- a parliamentary election due in January.
With the U.S. withdrawal from cities, many Iraqis from Shi'ite and Sunni sects say they feel exposed to what they say is corruption and incompetence afflicting Iraqi security forces.
"We're afraid of what will happen in the next few days," 40-year-old Shi'ite civil servant Salah Abd told Reuters by the wreckage of the Sadr City blast. "We could lose a lot of lives."
Others are more optimistic about the U.S. withdrawal, which will see almost all U.S. troops pull back to rural bases. Continued...
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Time right to withdraw from Iraqi cities: U.S. general
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