Conflicted Iraqis face future without US troops

BAGHDAD – For the first time in decades, Iraqis face a future on their own, with neither Saddam Hussein’s iron fist nor the United States’ military might to hold them together. This has been both their dream and nightmare: They wanted American troops (the occupiers) to go, but they wanted American troops (the protectors) to stay.

Now many fear an increase in violence, growing Iranian influence and political turmoil after President Barack Obama’s definitive announcement Friday that all U.S. forces will leave by the end of the year.

In conversations with The Associated Press, Iraqis across the political, religious and geographic spectrum Saturday questioned what more than eight years of war and tens of thousands of Iraqi and U.S. lives lost had wrought on their country. They wondered how their still struggling democracy could face the challenges ahead.

“Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans have won here,” said Adnan Omar, a Sunni from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Rifaat Khazim, a Shiite from the southern city of Basra, said, “I do not think that this withdrawal will bring anything better to Iraq or that Iraqi leaders will be able to achieve stability and security in this country. Most of the Iraqis yearn now for Saddam’s time. Now, Iraq is defenseless in the face of the threats by the neighboring countries.”