Wednesday, October 27, 2004

BAGHDAD — Leaders and supporters of the anti-U.S. insurgency say their attacks in recent weeks have a clear objective: The greater the violence, the greater the chances that President Bush will be defeated on Tuesday and the Americans will go home.

“If the U.S. Army suffered numerous humiliating losses, [Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John] Kerry would emerge as the superman of the American people,” said Mohammad Amin Bashar, a leader of the Muslim Scholars Association, a hard-line clerical group that vocally supports the resistance.

Resistance leader Abu Jalal boasted that the mounting violence had already hurt Mr. Bush’s chances.

“American elections and Iraq are linked tightly together,” he told a Fallujah-based Iraqi reporter. “We’ve got to work to change the election, and we’ve done so. With our strikes, we’ve dragged Bush into the mud.”

Mowafaq Al-Tai, a London-educated architect and intellectual, said different types of resistance fighters have different views of the U.S. election.

The most pro-Kerry, he said, are the former Saddam Hussein loyalists — Ba’ath Party members and others who think Washington might scale back its ambitions for Iraq if Mr. Kerry wins, allowing them to re-enter civic life.

The most pro-Bush, he said, are the foreign extremists. “They prefer Bush, because he’s a provocative figure, and the more they can push people to the extreme, the better for their case.”

Abu Jalal, answering questions submitted to him through the Iraqi journalist, devised a simple formula for how his group’s attacks on American soldiers draw votes from Mr. Bush.

“They say there are 1,100 dead soldiers. That means 1,100 families hold grudges against Bush and hate him. There are 6,000 families whose sons were injured who hate Bush and will not re-elect him.”

But even within the resistance, not all agree that removing Mr. Bush from office would make a difference.

“The nation of infidels is one, and Bush and Kerry are two faces of the same coin,” said Abu Obeida, nom de guerre of a leader of Fallujah’s al-Noor Jihadi regiment. “What is taken by force will be returned only by force, and we don’t care what the results of the elections are.”

Among ordinary Iraqis interested only in a return to peace and stability, there is far less clarity about what the American election might bring. Many, like 35-year-old bank branch manager Sahar Mahmoud, say they are bewildered by media reports about the nuances of polling, swing states and attack ads.

“It’s a very big political game, and something that we are very far from,” he said. “We are very tired people, and we’re just emerging from a big crisis. So we can’t imagine what other people are going through.”

Zeydoon Mohamad Jassem Najar, a biology student at Baghdad University, simply shakes his head as the U.S. politicians argue over his country’s fate.

“It’s like everybody is looking out for their own interests and nobody is looking for the Iraqi people’s interests,” he said. “It’s like a game of personal interests between Bush and the other guy.”

Mr. Bashar, a professor at Baghdad’s Islamic University, said he and many of those who oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq were rooting for Mr. Kerry.

“I think if Kerry wins, he’s going to try to get world support and United Nations involvement,” he said during an interview at Baghdad’s Um al-Qura mosque. “You’ll see a different situation in Iraq if the United Nations is involved.”

But Nazar Judi, a 41-year-old money trader who had his right hand cut off by Saddam Hussein’s security forces nine years ago, is squarely in the Bush camp.

“I prefer Bush over the other guy because he knows Iraq well,” said Mr. Judi, who received a new prosthetic hand from the U.S. Army and was flown to Washington to meet Mr. Bush in person. “I hope he wins his election because he wants to modernize Iraq.”

A photograph of the American president shaking Mr. Judi’s prosthetic hand hangs on the wall of a back room at his Khademiya office. In the front room, however, are portraits of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the vehemently anti-U.S. Iranian cleric, and his successor, Ali Khamenei, the current theocratic ruler of Iran.

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