IRAQ: Mesopotamia ponders Obama

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George W. Bush has become a familiar name to Iraqis in the nearly six years since the U.S. invasion. Today, Iraqis pondered life with Barack Obama, the first African American elected president, who will preside over what presumably will be the United States’ endgame in Iraq.

Iraqis wondered would Obama’s election presage an end to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq or would nothing change. On the streets of Iraq, from Baghdad to Kurdistan, people pondered the implications of Obama’s victory.

Jarjees Said, a 38-year-old worker at a printing plant in the northern city of Mosul, said: “We hope that he will withdraw the forces from Iraq and save the people from the occupation and the suffering caused by the occupation forces.”

Some accused Obama of being an agent for Israel, apparently unaware of how America’s ultra-right wing accused him of being a Muslim agent and anti-Israeli in the election campaign. “The new president is interested in the Zionist lobby and specifically Israel. That was obvious during his campaign visit where he prayed at the Wailing Wall wearing a yarmulke. McCain didn’t do these things,” said Abdul Qadir Yunis, who runs a private company in Mosul.


In Kurdistan, some Iraqis were inspired by Obama’s historic rise, 44 years after racial segregation was outlawed in the United States. “America has opened a new page,” said Tawana Othman, an intellectual in Sulaymaniya, Kurdistan. “Today, a black man has reached the White House.”

Some Kurds pined for Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, famous for her pointy glasses and snug red dresses. “Obama’s victory froze my heart. I liked Sarah Palin, her leadership, with its mix of innocence and courage. She was beautiful and sweet,” said Shadman Rafiq, who works in a computer repair shop in Sulaymaniya.

Rafiq believed that McCain and Palin would protect the country’s Shiites and Kurds, but he feared Obama would abandon them.

In the ethnic powder keg of Kirkuk, people rallied to Obama because he has promised an end to the American intervention in Iraq. Mohammed, a 54-year-old Turkmen, said: “Obama’s victory means the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, and he will implement his promises to the American and Iraqi people.’

Some looked to Obama’s rise as a lesson for their own nations about overcoming discrimination and bigotry. “This is a historic event. As far as I know, there is a silent sectarian war between blacks and whites, like the one in Iraq between the Shiites and the Sunnis, but I think Obama’s winning proves that there is no difference between the white people and the black,” said Ammar Makiya, a 24-year-old barber, who worked in Baghdad’s Bab Sharji market.

A 58-year-old food shop owner, Abu Hassan, 58, was inspired by the president-elect. “I like Obama because he has Islamic roots but I like him more because he is black,” Hassan said, hoping Obama would withdraw troops quickly. “If McCain won, he would have kept the forces here until 2020.”

In western Anbar province, where the Americans battled Al Qaeda in Iraq through 2006, Iraqis were still angry at Bush. “Obama’s win is like revenge for us. Against the Republicans who waged a criminal war to occupy and destroy our country,” said Khalid Hussein, a 47-year-old government employee.

Others cursed Bush. “I’m relieved that Obama won. I want to add a complaint to President Obama to try Bush because he killed our sons and destroyed our country and houses and displaced many of our sons abroad,” said Kifayia Hamadi, a 70-year-old housewife.

-- Baghdad bureau

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