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Iraqi views mixed on US presidential contest
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    BAGHDAD — Wasan Salah hopes Barack Obama will win the presidency because ‘‘he wants to withdraw the troops.’’ An Iraqi Christian woman thinks he will too — and so she’s rooting for John McCain.
    Iraqis have nearly as big a stake in Tuesday’s presidential contest as Americans, since the new president will face tough decisions on how to draw down U.S. forces without sacrificing security gains and vital American interests in the Middle East.
    Many Iraqis are eager to see an end to a U.S. military presence they consider foreign occupation; American officials insist the troops are here to defend the Iraqi people against terrorists.
    At the same time, many Iraqis also fear their leaders and security forces are not ready to protect the country. They’d like to see the Americans leave — but not too soon.
    ‘‘I prefer that McCain wins the election so that he will pursue the same policy as President Bush,’’ a middle-aged Christian woman told Associated Press Television News in a sidewalk interview near Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
    ‘‘We are afraid that if Obama comes into office, he will withdraw the U.S. troops immediately and cause chaos in our country,’’ she said, refusing to give her name because of security fears.
    Those contrasting views are as different as the candidates’ positions on Iraq.
    Obama opposed the Iraq invasion of 2003 and has called for a complete withdrawal of combat troops within 16 months. McCain supported the decision to go to war and — like Bush — has opposed setting a timetable for the troops to leave.
    McCain, a veteran and Vietnam War prisoner, has promised to pursue the Iraq war to victory.
    ‘‘I prefer Obama because he wants to withdraw the foreign soldiers,’’ said Salah, 24, who lives in Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City, scene of heavy fighting last spring. ‘‘That might improve the situation in Iraq.’’
    Ali Basil, a 23-year-old semiprofessional soccer player from the southern city of Basra, agreed.
    ‘‘Obama will certainly win. McCain is a disaster. I like Obama because he’s for withdrawing the troops from Iraq. I hope Obama would not change his mind when he takes office,’’ Basil said.
    The view is somewhat different in Kurdistan, the generally peaceful three northern provinces where Kurds have enjoyed self-rule since 1991.
    Kurds have used their ties to Washington to defend their autonomy while wielding considerable influence in the national government. Some Kurdish officials had expressed concern that Obama might not continue the close relationship.
    However, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, is popular among Kurds because of his call for transforming Iraq into autonomous regions of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
    ‘‘I think Obama will win the elections and the Kurdish situation will be better with the presence of Biden,’’ Kurdish legislator Nouri Talabani told the Kurdish-language magazine Haftana.
    Many Iraqis have trouble imagining Obama as president because the youthful African-American does not match their image of an American power broker..
    ‘‘I don’t think the Americans would give the presidency to a black man and so McCain will certainly win,’’ said a grocer in Diwaniyah, who gave only his nickname, Abu Nour.
    Senior government officials have avoided any public statements about the campaign. Some key Iraqi officials indicated the government was slow to catch on to Obama’s appeal, perhaps because McCain was better known here for his frequent visits.
    Obama came to Iraq last summer as part of a congressional delegation and met with senior figures, including the prime minister.
    In a commentary Tuesday, the government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah said polls ‘‘and media speculation’’ indicate Obama would be the likely winner.
    The newspaper said U.S. policy toward Iraq was unlikely to change dramatically because America has a vital interest in a stable Iraq. That view is widely held among ordinary Iraqis too.
    ‘‘Nobody cares about the elections because the American policy will be the same,’’ said Mouayad Maoloud, 45, who owns a restaurant in a Sunni area of Baghdad, ‘‘So it doesn’t matter who wins. But I think Obama will win.’’
    Some Iraqis expressed hope that the end of the Bush administration will mean a new beginning after nearly six years of war and deprivation.
    ‘‘We hope that the new American president will open a new page with our country,’’ said Baghdad resident Mohammed al-Tamimi. ‘‘We don’t have freedom. We don’t have independence. Our wealth is not under our control. We are not happy now.’’
    Associated Press Writers Yahya Barzanji and Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.

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