- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

BAGHDAD — Sunnis yesterday welcomed a U.S. congressional push to begin withdrawing U.S. troops by Oct. 1, but Shi’ites expressed fear the move would leave Iraq in the hands of al Qaeda.

Iraqis appeared divided along sectarian lines over Thursday’s Senate approval of House-passed legislation calling for U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq by Oct. 1. President Bush pledged to veto the measure and neither body passed the measure with enough votes to override him.

A Sunni teacher in Baghdad said the idea had his full support, but he doubted it would happen.

“I think that [Thursday’s] vote and the threats by Bush to use the veto are nothing but political games played in Washington and we have been paying the price for these games since 2003. In fact, I see no U.S. withdrawal on the horizon,” Assad Yassin, 42, said.

Majority Shi’ites and their Kurdish allies, meanwhile, echoed the opinion of the Shi’ite-led government, which warned the Oct. 1 start date was too soon.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also warned that the congressional decision “sends wrong signals” to militants.

Kamil Nassir, 40, a Shi’ite who owns a grocery store in Baghdad, agreed and said he was hopeful it would be stopped.

“I do not think that the United States that has sacrificed thousands of soldiers and hundreds of billions of dollars is ready to leave Iraq,” he said. “Whether Democrats or Republicans, the U.S. politicians are not ready to leave Iraq in the hands of al Qaeda. U.S. withdrawal will mean victory to al Qaeda and more problems for the Americans.”

Many minority Sunnis have long opposed the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, which ended Saddam Hussein’s mostly Sunni government and cleared the way for majority Shi’ites and minority Kurds to dominate government.

Yesterday’s public reaction to the congressional vote was mixed along sectarian lines.

“This is a wrong move by the Democrats,” said Muhei Hadi, Shi’ite municipal counselor in Baghdad. “The U.S. forces must stay in Iraq until Iraqi forces are really qualified to face terrorists. I hope that Bush will use his veto.”

In Basra, Shi’ite police Col. Karim Sadkhan said he thinks a quick U.S. military withdrawal “will encourage the terrorists to wage more attacks and killings.”

Wisam Abdullah, 28, a Sunni restaurant owner in Basra, said: “All Iraqis want the U.S. Army to leave our country.”

But in Basra, where Shi’ite militias are competing for influence as British troops prepare to begin leaving the area, even Sunni restaurateur Abdullah seemed worried.

“I do not think that now is the best time to ask for the U.S. withdrawal,” he said.

As Iraqis pondered their future, the U.S. military said three U.S. Marines were killed Thursday in fighting in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. The deaths raised to at least 3,337 members of the U.S. military who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

At least 19 persons were reported killed or found dead by police, including 16 bullet-riddled bodies — seven in Baghdad, six pulled from the Tigris River south of the capital, and three in the northeastern city of Baqouba.

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