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Iraqis see uses for more U.S. troops

Autonomy is preferable but not practical now, Sunnis and Shiites say.

December 24, 2006|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Asked how he felt about a proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, Kamil Nasser described a recent encounter with the Americans.

Along with a contingent of Iraqi troops, U.S. forces raided his home just before dawn, he said. They broke down the door, damaged furniture and bound the hands of all in the house. They arrested his brother, Hassan, suspecting him of being a member of a Shiite Muslim militia.

But the next day the Americans let Hassan go unharmed. They had the wrong guy, they acknowledged. They even apologized.

Nasser shudders to think what would have happened if Iraqi forces alone had taken his brother into custody.

"Although I cannot say I like Americans, I do believe it would have been much worse if it were only Iraqis arresting my brother," the 32-year-old real estate broker said. He may have never seen his brother alive again.

Most Iraqis are staunch nationalists and viscerally oppose the idea of foreign troops occupying their soil. After news of the possible troop increase spread here, many said they wanted fewer, not more, U.S. forces in Iraq. But after scratching at the surface, a more pragmatic view emerged.

Many Iraqis see the U.S. troops as more honest brokers than Iraqi security forces, which are believed to be largely corrupt and incompetent and heavily infiltrated by militiamen bearing sectarian grudges.

"Listen, this is sour medicine and we are forcing ourselves to swallow it," said Salim Abdullah Jabouri, a spokesman for the main Sunni Arab bloc in parliament.

"Our ultimate goal would be for the Iraqi army to be self-reliant and take over security of the country without the assistance or interference of any foreign entity," he said. "But the reality is that this could not be done at this stage with the absence of American forces."

Those who favor a U.S. troop increase offer differing reasons depending on whether they are Shiites or Sunnis. For Shiites, who fear suicide bombings by Sunni fighters, more Americans could fend off more attacks.

"The violence is already there, be it with the current numbers or with a new increase," said Ibrahim Kareem, 44, a Shiite employee at the Ministry of Industry. "But it's still possible an increase will deter the terrorists."

Among Sunnis, suspicions abound about the Shiite-dominated security forces that have targeted their communities in the country's ongoing civil war. Sunni supporters of a troop increase would like to see more U.S. forces halting the Shiite advance on their neighborhoods.

"A surge in U.S. troops will help in providing protection for the Sunnis from the militias," said Ziad Azzawi, 38, a Sunni businessman near the city of Baqubah. "The only way to resolve the current situation is by appointing neutral Iraqi security forces and a more competent leadership."

Still, the angry feelings about the Americans remain. Almost every person who expressed support for an increase in troops also said there would be enormous opposition to any increase. Many predict a surge would be confronted gleefully by religiously motivated Sunni Arab insurgents and their supporters.

Sheik Hameed Theeab, a leader of the Dulaimi tribe, a backbone of the insurgency, said, "Bringing more troops and more sophisticated weapons would mean that these troops are going to stay for an even longer time, and implicitly means that there will be more problems, more casualties, losses and attacks."

daragahi@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Said Rifai and special correspondents in Baghdad, Baqubah and Fallouja contributed to this report.

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