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Question of the Day
Baghdad's mayor yesterday called for a reduced U.S. military presence in the Iraqi capital -- both on the streets of the city and in the concrete- and barbed-wire-fortified green zone.
"We ask the Americans to shrink their existence in Baghdad," Alaa Mahmoud al-Tamimi, the ancient city's mayor since last May, told The Washington Times.
He spoke on the sidelines of a conference on the establishment of an Iraq foundation -- along the lines of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum -- held at the Library of Congress.
As for the heavily protected green zone, roughly three square miles in the city's heart that houses top U.S. military and civilian operations, Mr. al-Tamimi said, "Really, I think that some of the area should come back to Baghdad."
The mayor said the pullback should start as soon as possible. U.S. troops could retreat to their camps and bases, and intervene "when we need them," he said.
There are roughly 20,000 U.S. troops in the capital, according to the Pentagon.
U.S. forces -- frequently the targets of deadly terrorist bombers -- have been accused by some Iraqis and most recently by America's ally, Italy, of using excessive force at checkpoints, opening fire on civilians.
"All these checkpoints should be under the control of Iraqis," said Mr. al-Tamimi. "There is a difference in culture, and sometimes the Americans don't understand what happens in the Iraqi street."
The insurgency, he predicted, would fade away by the end of the year, as Iraqis begin to respect and defend their freely elected government.
Armed U.S. forces regularly patrol the city, man major checkpoints, particularly on the busy road that leads to Baghdad's airport, and drive heavily armed convoys through the crowded streets.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable said cutting U.S. troops in Baghdad would depend on how quickly Iraqi forces could take over.
"We would very much like to shrink out of Baghdad, and would like the Iraqis to take charge of the situation, [but] conditions do not allow for that transition to take place," he said.
The spokesman said so far one Iraqi brigade had assumed responsibility for several areas around Baghdad, including Haifa Street, where insurgents had been waging gunbattles against U.S. forces and had executed civilians in the street.
Mr. al-Tamimi said his goal was to restore Baghdad, home to a quarter of Iraq's population of about 25 million people, back to its historic glory -- but that a lot of practical steps must take place first.
The capital is suffering from a severe shortage of water and sewerage facilities, the mayor said, adding that about one million cubic meters of sewage were being dumped into the Tigris River every day.
His vision of a new Baghdad would take up to a decade and $10 billion to realize, said Mr. al-Tamimi. Mr. al-Tamimi said that during his nine-day visit to the United States, he had obtained a $65 million grant from the World Bank for water projects and secured a pledge for an additional $50 million low-interest loan from Japan.
He also met with officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Future contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq, said the mayor, had to go through the Iraqi government.
"If they seek some transparency, we have no problem with that. They can keep control, like the World Bank does, but we do the work," he insisted.
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