BAGHDAD – Iraqis offered varying reactions Friday to President Barack Obama's plan to remove U.S. combat forces by August 2010 — some applauding the withdrawal, but others questioning whether Iraq's security forces were up to the task alone.
Several Iraqi TV stations broadcast live coverage of Obama's speech at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"Iraq will regain independence and sovereignty, and the United States will get rid of many military and economic problems," said Raji Abbas, a Shiite from the southern city of Najaf, where U.S. forces battled militias in 2004.
"But, before leaving Iraq, the U.S. Army should do their best to train and equip the Iraqi security forces so they can confront the dangers that are threatening the country," he said.
Obama's plan calls for withdrawing American combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving up to 50,000 troops to advise, train and provide counterterrorism support.
The pace of withdrawal suggests that the bulk of the current U.S. military presence in Iraq — some 140,000 troops — will remain in Iraq through nationwide elections later this year.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said he welcomes the withdrawal and has urged that it be done "orderly and responsibly." Obama called al-Maliki with the details of the plan before delivering his speech, White House officials said.
Sunni lawmaker Mustafa al-Hiti said Obama's plan met "the aspirations of many Iraqis who want to see the occupying troops out of their country."
"We have enough confidence in our security forces and we think that there is no chance for a new round of violence in Iraq," he said.
In Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, 40-year-old Sunni government worker Hazim Ali Hamid was stung by Obama's praise of U.S. forces for removing Saddam.
"But, in fact, the U.S. forces achieved one thing — that is, destroying Iraq," he said. "We hope the U.S. soldiers will leave our country sooner rather than later to end one of the bloodiest pages in Iraq's history."
In the self-ruled Kurdish north, Shwan Mahmoud said that if the U.S. wants a "moral and responsible withdrawal, it should solve the ethnic and sectarian disputes in Iraq before pulling out."
Mahmoud, 43, a publisher in Sulaimaniyah, said he believes the country will descend into a civil war if the ethnic and sectarian issues are not solved before American forces leave.
In Baghdad, an influential Shiite cleric said the plan does not go far enough and demanded the reduction of American Embassy staff as well.
During a sermon Friday, Sheik Saleh al-Haidari said there was no longer a need for such a large American diplomatic presence. The U.S. Embassy sits on a 104-acre site in the heavily fortified Green Zone. It has more than 1,000 employees.