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Iraq: Reactions To U.S. Report Follow Familiar Pattern

An Iraqi reads a newspaper about the release of the Iraq Study Group report, December 7 (epa) NEW YORK, December 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- On December 6, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group released its much-anticipated report with suggestions for changing U.S. strategy in Iraq. Many of the recommendations are a clear break from the Iraq policies of the Bush administration, particularly the suggestion that the United States directly engage Iran and Syria. However, since the report is nonbinding and carries no legal weight, U.S. President George W. Bush is not obligated to implement its recommendations.

Regardless, the initial reactions among Iraqis suggests there are divisions over whether the report is a successful blueprint for helping pull Iraq out of the cycle of sectarian violence, or if it is a flawed document loaded with unrealistic proposals.

Mixed Reactions In Iraq

As the Iraq Study Group's recommendations were released, the reactions among Iraqi politicians were mixed. Many seemed relieved that the report suggested that U.S. troops focus less on combat and provide more of a supportive role, while giving Iraqi forces more security responsibilities. Many of the positive comments consisted of terse and vague praise, suggesting that some Iraqi politicians were unsure about what elements of the report would be adopted by the U.S. government.

The head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front, Adnan al-Dulaymi, told Al-Sharqiyah television on December 7 that the report "contained sound views, especially with regard to the U.S. presence in Iraq."

Shi'ite lawmaker Sami al-Askari said that the report had many positive elements. "I think the Baker-Hamilton commission listened carefully and responded to what the Iraqi government wants," he was quoted by "The New York Times" on December 7 as saying.

However, not all Iraqi lawmakers expressed enthusiasm for the report. Some suggested that that the report was unrealistic and the security situation would not improve even after the U.S. military handed security responsibilities over to the Iraqis.

"If the U.S. Army, in its troop levels and hardware, is unable to provide security, then how can we imagine that increasing the number of the [Iraqi] army and police and better training will decide the situation?" Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi said, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on December 7.

Blaming The Occupiers

Many Iraqi politicians expressed surprise at what was perceived to be a threat by the report, suggesting that Washington end "political, military, or economic support" for Iraq if the Baghdad government failed to meet certain "milestones" in its performance. This implied that the burden was fully on Iraq and many Iraqis feared that this would be an easy way for the United States to pull out of Iraq. Iraqi lawmakers also resented the implied criticism, and instead blamed the United States, as the occupying power, for not doing enough to ensure stability.

Kirkuk is a divisive issue (epa)

"The United States calls itself an occupation force, according to the Geneva Convention. If you are an occupier, then you are responsible for the country," Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Uthman told AFP on December 7. "They have no right. This is not fair."

Bassim Ridha, a top adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, described the threat of the United States cutting off support if Iraq did not perform as hypocritical. "If they do not support the government, then it will look as if they do not do what they preach. I do not believe they will stop the military support until they complete their mission. We need their support to go forward," Ridah told Al-Sharqiyah television on December 7.

For their part, Kurdish lawmakers expressed outrage at the report's recommendation to block one of the Kurds' most important goals: a referendum on the future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The report says that "a referendum on the future of Kirkuk (as required by the Iraqi Constitution before the end of 2007) would be explosive and should be delayed."

Kurdish legislator Uthman said that the future status of Kirkuk was enshrined in Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution and blocking or delaying the referendum defies the constitution, he told "The New York Times" on December 7. "It's sort of interference in Iraqi affairs, actually. These points are really worrying for the Kurds," he said.

Report Viewed Along Sectarian Lines

While Iraqis debate the merits of the Iraq Study Group's report, it seems that most Iraqis agree on the need for change. However, judging from the reactions of various Iraqi politicians, their views on the report fell in line with familiar sectarian agendas.

Sunni Arabs continue to squarely place the blame for Iraq's problems on the Shi'ite-led government, calling for it to end its practice of sectarianism and cleanse the security services of their infiltration by militia elements. Muhammad al-Faydi of the Sunni-dominated Muslim Scholars Association told Al-Jazeera on December 7 that the Iraqi government needed to make serious changes before anything can be accomplished.

"We find, for example, that the report recommends the need for the Iraqi people to cooperate with its government and that this provides for them a safe future, while we know that the government today is part of the problem and that the militias that kill the people are affiliated with influential political blocs in parliament," al-Faydi said.

However, Prime Minister al-Maliki and other influential Shi'ite leaders have shown in the past an unwillingness to clamp down on the militias and it seems unlikely that they would acquiesce to the report's recommendations that they do so. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether any tangible steps will be taken by Iraq's Shi'a and Sunnis to address sectarian disagreements.

On The Verge Of Civil War

On The Verge Of Civil War

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THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.