Iraqis Divided Over Bush Speech

Iraqis were divided Wednesday over U.S. President George W. Bush's rejection of a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, which came a day after insurgents bent on starting a civil war marked the country's first year of sovereignty by killing more than a dozen people.

Bush's speech at a U.S. Army base in North Carolina was broadcast live on several Arab television networks, but most Iraqis were asleep because it began at about 4:00 a.m. local time Wednesday. TV newscasts replayed portions of the speech later in the morning, drawing a wide range of reactions from Iraqis.

"Iraq cannot be stable if the American and coalition forces left it because Iraqi forces don't have the required level of training to protect the country," said Baghdad University (search) engineering professor Moayad Yasin al-Samaraie, 55.

But other Iraqis still believe the presence of about 138,000 U.S. troops is an occupation force preventing local officials from fully controlling internal affairs.

"The transfer of authority was a great dream but nothing took place," said Samah Abdul Mihsen, a 24-year-old housewife living in al-Amin al-Thaniyah, a middle-class neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. "Bush does not want to pull out the American forces although we can defend our country. There are so many problems because of the presence of foreign troops."

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), who met with Bush in Washington last week, was quoted as saying in Wednesday's edition of the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that he discussed the issue of troop withdrawal with the U.S. president.

"We want the foreign troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible," al-Jaafari was quoted as telling the newspaper in an interview. "No country accepts having foreign troops on its lands because this indicates our inability to defend our country and our acknowledgment that there is a security problem."

Bush said that some of Iraq's security forces have made progress, but "the rest are forming and not yet ready to participate fully in security operations. Our task is to make the Iraqi units fully capable and independent."

His comments came after more bloodshed Tuesday killed at least 18 people throughout Iraq, including a prominent Shiite legislator and two U.S. soldiers.

Separately, U.S. and Iraqi troops launched Operation Sword (search) in communities along the Euphrates River, their third major anti-insurgency campaign in the volatile western Anbar province.

The campaigns have failed to stem a Sunni-dominated insurgency that has killed around 1,370 people — mostly civilians and Iraqi forces — since al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-dominated government April 28.

The relentless attacks have sparked an escalation of sectarian tensions and fears of civil war. Shiites make up 60 percent of the country's estimated 26 million population while Sunni Arabs account for 15-20 percent.

Sunnis, who dominated Iraq for decades, lost power when Saddam Hussein, their last patron and a Sunni, was ousted. Their boycott of January's historic elections further sidelined them, and Sunnis make up the core of a violent insurgency.

On Tuesday, National Assembly legislator Sheik Dhari Ali al-Fayadh, his son, and two bodyguards were killed when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into theirs as they traveled to parliament from their farm in Rashidiya, 20 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Al-Fayadh, a Shiite tribal leader in his late 80s, was the eldest member of the new parliament and had acted as temporary speaker. He belonged to the country's largest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (search), the senior partner in the governing coalition.

It marked the second political assassination in a week, coming after the June 22 killing of a prominent Sunni Arab who had been a candidate to join a committee drafting Iraq's constitution.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has declared war on Shiites and other Muslims seen as collaborating with the United States and Iraq's new government, claimed responsibility for al-Fayadh's assassination on an Islamic Web site. The statement's authenticity could not be verified.

President Jalal Talabani (search) nevertheless praised the anniversary of the official transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis because it led to the Jan. 30 election, the country's first free balloting in decades.

Those elections, however, were boycotted by the vast majority of Sunni Arabs — either because of unwillingness or fear of the insurgency.

Efforts to include more Sunni Arabs in the political process suffered another setback Tuesday when parliament again postponed setting up an expanded committee to draft the constitution — which must be ready by Aug. 15 so as to be approved by referendum in October.

The postponement came after the committee said Sunni leaders, who nominated 15 representatives for the 71-member body, failed to endorse the list. Some objections also arose over candidates who allegedly were once senior members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party.

U.S. soldiers allegedly killed an Iraqi news executive when he did not pull over as an American convoy passed in Baghdad on Tuesday, said Dr. Muhanad Jawad of Yarmouk Hospital. Ahmed Wael Bakri worked as a director at al-Sharqiya TV.

The U.S. military said they were investigating. Bakri was the third Iraqi journalist allegedly killed in similar incidents in the past week.