- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Iraq’s feuding Shi’ite and Sunni politicians both expressed hopes yesterday that Republican political setbacks and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would not trigger an abrupt U.S. military withdrawal from the country.

Although Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure inspired few tears in the region, political leaders in Iraq and across the Middle East were worried how the midterm vote would affect U.S. commitments and policy in the region.

The embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said it took heart from President Bush’s statements that major Democratic gains in Tuesday’s midterm elections will not lead U.S. forces to abandon the mission in Iraq.

And Qais Abu Ahmed, a member of the Sunni Arab minority, said that despite widespread Iraqi frustration with the foreign military presence, “any withdrawal of the American army would be a big disaster.”

“There would be at the very least a civil war, if not a major massacre, the next day,” he said.

But Hassan al-Sunnaid, a Shi’ite member of the defense and security committee in parliament, said, “Changing Rumsfeld should have happened a year ago because his work in Iraq did not achieve any results.”

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Mr. al-Maliki, told reporters in Baghdad that the alliance with the U.S. government would survive Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster. But he said Iraqis share many of the frustrations of U.S. voters about the lack of political and economic progress three years after the U.S.-led invasion.

“There should be more coordination, there should be more say for Iraqis,” he said.

Underscoring the dangers, Iraq Health Minister Ali al-Shemari said about 150,000 Iraqis had been killed by insurgents since the war began in 2003 — the first official casualty estimate offered by the government. Mr. al-Shemari, briefing reporters on a visit to Austria, did not elaborate on the figure, which is nearly three times higher than most previous estimates.

At least 45 Iraqis were killed or found dead yesterday, including 16 who died in a coordinated car bomb attack on Shi’ite street markets in Baghdad.

Major Arab news outlets said little is known of the agenda of Robert M. Gates, the former CIA chief whom Mr. Bush has nominated to replace Mr. Rumsfeld. But most said it was past time for Mr. Rumsfeld to depart.

“Let us hope that Rumsfeld’s resignation will be the start of a correction of U.S. policy,” wrote Tariq Alhomayed, editor of the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Although pro-American Arab leaders have kept silent about the U.S. political earthquake, semi-official news outlets in Saudi Arabia and Jordan have praised Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure as what the Jordan Times called the end to an “unfortunate era of American unilateralism.”

Al-Watan, a leading Saudi newspaper, said in an editorial, “It is clear that the American people have withdrawn their support for the president over the Iraq war.

“Everybody in the Middle East is keenly hoping for wiser American policies in the region, especially regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the frozen [Palestinian] peace process, in addition to the tense situation in Iraq.”

Iran and Syria, which have feuded with the U.S. administration, hailed Mr. Rumsfeld’s downfall.

Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told the country’s official news agency, “The election results are a real slap in the face from the American people for the administration which launched the war in Iraq.”

But not all the foreign commentary on Mr. Rumsfeld was negative.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who came to power after the U.S.-led campaign that ousted the fundamentalist Taliban regime, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview that the outgoing defense secretary was “a good friend of Afghanistan, a good ally and supporter in the war against terrorism.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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