BAGHDAD, Iraq – Some Iraqis expressed anger with President Bush's pledge in his State of the Union address to stay the course in Iraq, while others on Wednesday said they believed the Americans had little choice but to stick it out to prevent civil war.
Bush declared in his address Tuesday that "a sudden withdrawal of our forces" would abandon "our Iraqi allies to death and prison." He said America had little option but to "keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind the American military in its vital mission."
That did not set well with those Iraqis who are weary of the continued violence and lack of basic services such as water and electricity. Many Iraqis believe things would get better if the Americans went home.
"President George Bush stated that the troops wouldn't leave the country. But it would be better for the Iraqi people if the U.S. troops would get out," Raid Fadhil said Wednesday in Baghdad.
Some Iraqis said they were happy when the U.S.-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein three years ago but they feel the troops have worn out their welcome.
"I was so happy when I saw these forces manage to topple Saddam and I thought that they would leave Iraq as soon as they formed a government," Muhannad Abdul-Razak, 25, a Sunni student, said. "But I was shocked when they started to worsen the situation by raids, random killings and loss of control in Baghdad."
However, some Iraqis were reassured by Bush's pledge to remain, fearing that a pullout would open the way for a civil war or a new dictator rising to power.
Abdul-Halim al-Rihaimi, an Iraqi political commentator, said American forces should stay until Iraqi police and soldiers are ready to deal with extremist groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or Saddam loyalists from the Baath Party underground.
"Any retreat of the (coalition) forces now would be considered premature and would (see) the whole country fall into the hands of the al-Zarqawi group and those from the previous regime," he said. "That would plunge the country into chaos for years."
In the northern city of Mosul, Sunni Arab journalist Mahmoud Shawkat al-Yas, 40, said Bush's speech acknowledged that "Iraqi is an occupied country" and they will leave only when the White House is ready.
"All international calls for the withdrawal of troops are useless because the Americans do only what they want," he said.
Omar Salah Bamirla, 35, Kurdish university professor in Mosul, agreed with Bush's assessment and expressed regret that Iraqis "cannot agree on what is good for this country."
"If these troops left the country, another dictator would come to power because there are so many powerful men in the Iraqi political domain that have armed militias and are potential dictators," he said, citing Kurdish and Shiite politicians.
Another Baghdad resident, Ali Hussein, said he was no longer bothered by the U.S. troop presence in Iraq but said the longer they stay "will hurt us more."
Businessman Thair al-Obaidi, 50, criticized both the United States and the militants for fighting their war in his country.
"President Bush and his adversaries like al-Zarqawi and (Usama) bin Laden are always showing off their muscle with such statements against each other, but the only loser of this is the Iraqi citizen," al-Obaidi said.
Assel Hani, 35, a Shiite math teacher and mother of three, said she feared that the presence of foreign forces had become "like an addiction."
"We need them, despite all the pain and danger we face every day due to their presence, in order to protect us from the terrorists and extremists," she said. "But at the same time we want them to leave us as soon as possible to heal our wounds."