BAGHDAD – President Obama did not dwell on the war in Iraq during his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo Thursday. But the address was closely watched by Iraqis, who are looking for signs of what is to come for their own nation and hope they can believe what the president said.
Two to three minutes of Obama's nearly hour-long speech were devoted to reassuring Iraqis that the U.S. will honor its commitment to pull troops out of the country by 2012.
To Iraq's chief spokesman, the fact so little was said about Iraq shows how far the country has come since the invasion of 2003.
"It is positive that Iraq does not take up so much of a U.S. president's speech," said Ali al-Dabbagh, who said that it shows that Iraq is no longer considered a problem in the region.
But the president's reference to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a "war of choice" touched at least one nerve. National Security Adviser Muwafaq Rubaie said that while it was a war of choice, "it was a good choice, because that choice brought down one of the most brutal dictators in history."
Both officials expressed satisfaction with the overall tone of the speech and said the two countries need to look toward a strategic relationship between Washington and Baghdad. Dabbagh called the speech a strong message that showed that the administration is starting to understand the roots and reasons for religious tensions that, he said, are being exploited by extremists.
The speech was carried on all of Baghdad's main television channels, as well as the regional satellite news channels. Retired engineer Hassan Alwi, who watched the speech at a Baghdad café, said he would wait and see if Obama delivers on the ideas he outlined.
"America has very little credibility, but what he said about respecting Islam and improving relations was a great thing," said Alwi. "The question is, will he practice what he is preaching? Only the future will tell us."
Another retiree watching in the café felt sure that the speech was a new beginning that would improve relations between the Arab world and the U.S.
The headline on one Iraqi news Web site read, "No bases in Iraq after U.S. troops leave," but at least one viewer had his doubts.
"I don't think that they will pull out without leaving bases behind. Iraq is the heart of the Middle East, and there is Iran, Turkey and Syria around it, so they have to leave bases which they may need in the future," he said.
Iraqis seem prepared to give Obama high marks for reaching out to Muslims in his speech. All those who spoke to FOXNews.com appreciated the effort to read and quote verses from the Koran, saying this showed a new level of respect for Islam from a U.S. president.
They also want to believe the heart of the president's message — that the U.S. and the West are not at war with Islam.