- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraqi leaders, bolstered by assurances from U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said yesterday they saw no change in the level of U.S. support, despite the Democratic electoral victory and the surprise resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure was an internal matter for the United States. “We are dealing with an administration, not persons,” he said.

But ordinary citizens said they saw little hope that the power shift in Washington could restore their wrecked country or bring a quick end to the daily violence.

Speaking before Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure was revealed, Mr. Khalilzad told a reception attended by government officials, Iraqi legislators and U.S. Embassy personnel that “the president is the architect of U.S. foreign policy.”

President Bush “understands what’s at stake in Iraq. He is committed to working with both houses of Congress to get support needed for the mission in Iraq to succeed,” Mr. Khalilzad said.

Mr. Bush, in a White House press conference yesterday, acknowledged problems with the Iraq effort, but said Tuesday’s vote would not weaken U.S. resolve.

“The enemy is going to say, ‘Well, [the election] must mean America is going to leave.’ And the answer is, ‘No.’ ”

But Iraq’s continuing problems were on display again yesterday as the parliament voted to extend the country’s state of emergency for 30 more days amid reports that at least 66 more Iraqis were killed or found dead.

Yesterday’s deaths included those of eight soccer players and fans cut down by a pair of mortar rounds that slammed into a field in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of a soldier and a Marine, raising the number of American forces killed in Iraq in the first eight days of November to 21.

Nadim al-Jabiri, an academic and prominent member of the dominant Shi’ite Islamic bloc the United Iraqi Alliance, said Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation was not a surprise.

“The military strategy they have used won the war but failed to bring stability. I don’t think his resignation will have an effect on the ground as our problems are too great,” he said.

Some ordinary Iraqis took a similar view.

“Iraq is long ruined and American policy is fixed, whichever party takes control of Congress,” said Abdullah, a 28-year-old computing student who declined to give his last name. “If the Democrats can finally bring us some security they are welcome, but I believe no one can succeed.”

Mohamed Husni, a 24-year-old taxi driver, said he hoped the shift in Congress would bring an immediate U.S. withdrawal.

“The Americans have ruined everything and the only solution is to let Iraqis deal with this mess,” he said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose testy relations with Washington have often spilled into public clashes, told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview that he did not think a shift in Congress would bring any noticeable change in U.S. policy on Iraq.

“I understand that America will always work for America’s interest in its foreign policy. The relationship will not experience any major or dramatic change if new opinions surface after the elections,” he said in the interview taped as the U.S. vote was under way Tuesday.

Hasan al-Senaid, a senior Shi’ite politician close to Mr. al-Maliki, said in an interview: “Tactics may change but the strategy will remain. The Democrats may reduce the number of U.S. forces and may prefer a shorter duration of their stay.”

But Fattah al-Sheikh, a Shi’ite Islamist lawmaker, predicted more extensive changes with Mr. Rumsfeld now out of the picture.

“Rumsfeld has become the scapegoat for the change to take effect. I expect Khalilzad to follow him in a matter of days,” he said. The State Department has denied rumors that the U.S. ambassador plans to quit.

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