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They live daily with kidnappings and car bombings, but one of the biggest fears among Baghdad residents is a John Kerry presidency.
We know what John Kerry thinks of Iraq. But what does Iraq think of him? Since he may soon be presiding over a war there, the question merits an answer. Yet, while the press has devoted page after page to the electoral preferences of the French, the opinions of those who count most overseas have received nary a mention.
Partly this derives from the simple fact that, as polls show, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis don't care who wins our election. Their concerns run closer to home -- especially how to stay alive. There's an exception, however: the thousands of academics, lawyers, rights advocates, and other educated elites leading the effort to create a new Iraq -- nearly all of whom have hitched their fortunes to our own and nearly all of whom hope that President Bush wins.
Liberal Iraqis repeat the same question: Will the U.S. leave? These, after all, are the Iraqis building institutions, occupying key positions in ministries, and cooperating openly with the U.S. And they're the Iraqis with the most to lose in the event John Kerry makes good on his pledge to "bring the troops home where they belong."
This prospect, once unimaginable, has become very real in Iraq. The fear of abandonment has transformed meetings between Iraqi and U.S. officials, until recently arenas for grievance, into forums for the expression of solidarity. Leading Iraqis stayed up late into the night to watch the presidential debates. "Sophisticated Iraqis are listening closely," Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak Al-Rubaie says in a telephone interview. "Any discussion of withdrawal worries them." Echoing this, Manhel al-Safi, who recently left his post as an aide in the PM's office for a job in the Foreign Ministry, says, "There's a level of fear -- people in the government are afraid the Americans will leave Iraq." He adds a personal plea to Sen. Kerry: "Mr. Senator, destruction is easy; building takes a long time."
Such fears haven't been spun out of whole cloth. As far as Iraqi elites are concerned, President Bush brought democracy to a land that knew only dictatorship. From Sen. Kerry, however, they hear no commitment to build a liberal state or, for that matter, any state. What they hear instead is a presidential aspirant who complains about "opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America," even as his campaign aides dismiss Iraq's prime minister as an American "puppet."
To be fair, not everyone in the country is against Kerry:
Not surprisingly, surveys by the Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies find that, where George Bush garners the most support in the Kurdish north and from Iraq's well-educated urban elites, John Kerry draws his strongest support from what the Center's Sadoun al-Dulame calls Iraq's "hottest places" -- hotbeds of resistance to the U.S. A poll taken earlier this month in Baghdad, for example, finds that while President Bush would win a higher tally in New Baghdad's Christian precincts, Sen. Kerry carries Sadr City hands down.
Kaplan closes with a proposal for how the candidate can restore his credibility on Iraq:
But if John Kerry, who famously demanded that the U.S. "stop this blind commitment to a dictatorial regime" in Vietnam, imagines history repeating itself in Iraq, he really ought to visit the place. Having passed through eight time zones and one looking glass, what he will find is not the reactionary playground of his fantasies, but a country where thousands of idealistic young men and women go to work each day in the hope of creating a democratic society. One of them, Mustafa Al-Khadimiy, who risks his life cataloging the depredations Saddam Hussein inflicted, has this to say: "The terrorists want to destroy everything and we're dying every day. If we're going to have democracy, the Americans cannot leave." Alas, he won't be voting on Tuesday.
No, but thanks to President Bush and the U.S. military he will be voting in January.
You will be voting on Tuesday.
"..but one of the biggest fears among Baghdad residents is a John Kerry presidency."
They aren't alone with that one!
Since Kerry is so popular with our enemies, esp. Sadr City, couldn't we get him over there and put him in touch with his heroes?
I'll spring for the airfare!