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Iraqis Divided On Success Of Security Transfer

 Iraqi soldiers take combat position during a search for insurgents south of Ba'qubah.
Iraqi soldiers take combat position during a search for insurgents south of Ba'qubah.
Standing side by side with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Washington on July 22, President Barack Obama said he was encouraged by developments in Iraq. He added that the United States was in the "midst of a full transition to Iraqi responsibility" based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

But three weeks after the last U.S. troops pulled out of Iraqi cities, towns, and villages, Iraqi citizens are not all optimistic about the level of security or the prospects for improvement.

Ghofran Yunus, who lives with her parents in Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood, says the security situation in Iraq has changed little since U.S. troops withdrew from cities and towns on June 30 and moved into bases outside urban areas.

Iraqis still face the threat of suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and assaults by gunmen. "The only difference is the absence of U.S. soldiers in Baghdad streets," Yunus says.

Before the pullout, U.S. soldiers were a ubiquitous presence in the Iraqi capital as they patrolled streets, marketplaces, and buildings. These days, U.S. troops keep a low profile and their convoys move only during the night, even when making very short trips.

"The general situation in Baghdad has become bad. Several explosions happened two days ago,” Yunus said. Nevertheless, she added, “The daily life of the Iraqi people continues. They go to the market, they go to school, they work. This is our daily life: we have the insurgency but we must work, we must go to the market. This is our life."

Pullout ‘Far Too Early’

Those living outside the capital also describe a fragile security situation since Iraqi troops assumed full responsibility for security in population centers as of July 1.

In Tikrit, northwest of Baghdad, unemployed teacher Ahmad Muhammad Jasem says he doesn't believe Iraqi security forces are capable of dealing with what he called "horrifying" security challenges in Tikrit and elsewhere.

"The situation is really dangerous. Killings and explosions still take place. The security problems are the same as they were before” the withdrawal, Jasem said.

Jasem shares many other Iraqi people's concern that Iraqi forces still lack the experience and training to take full responsibility for the country's security. He says he is afraid that the U.S. troop pullout was carried out "far too early," and that it could lead to an increase in violence.

Others consider the U.S. troops as occupiers, and are pleased to see them taking the first steps toward leaving altogether.

During his talks with the Iraqi prime minister on July 22, President Obama offered assurances that the United States would adhere to its timetable to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, even though there are still militants in the country who "resort to killing innocents and senseless bombings."

Non-Military Support

Raeed al-Asad, a 30-year-old communications officer in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala, is among those who see the U.S. withdrawal as offering opportunities and the chance for Iraqis to manage their own affairs.

Al-Asad says complete withdrawal will ultimately contribute to the stabilization of Iraq. For one thing, Al-Asad says, militants who claim they are fighting against foreign occupying forces would no longer be able to fight under that banner once responsibility is transferred to Iraqi troops.

Al-Asad expects that militants would soon lose any support they enjoy among the population if they tried to thwart Iraqi security efforts by continuing to carry out bombings and shooting attacks.

But while Al-Asad welcomes the U.S. troop withdrawal, he hopes the United States will continue to assist Iraq in non-military areas.

"As an Iraqi citizen, as a resident of Karbala, I don't believe there is a need for the U.S. military presence in Iraq,” he said. “At the same time, however, I hope the U.S. will continue its participation in Iraq's development, rebuilding the country after the war, and bringing new technologies to Iraq, because the U.S. is the No. 1 country in the world."

Fuad Hussein, a Kurdish-Iraqi journalist, says it is time for Iraqi forces to take control of security throughout Iraq.

In Hussein's native city of Irbil, the capital of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region, local forces have been in charge since the fall of Baghdad to the U.S. military in 2003.

Apart from isolated violence, Irbil is considered to be one of the most stable areas in Iraq.

"It is inevitable that Iraqi forces should take over control from foreign troops,” Hussein said. “Now it is important that [U.S.] troops assist Iraqi forces. The general situation will improve, but it does not happen overnight."

RFE/RL's Iraqi Service contributed to this report.
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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