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Iraqis Express Skepticism About Bush's Promises - 2004-05-25

In Baghdad, many Iraqis are expressing skepticism about President Bush's promise to transfer full sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government at the end of next month.

Sitting in the shade of a tree during a break between classes, six students at Baghdad University were eager to discuss President Bush's speech on Iraq.

Most said that they did not watch the speech live, but they are aware of the promise the president repeated in the speech, to transfer sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government by June 30.

A 19-year-old biology student, who would only identify herself as Marwa, says she does not believe the United States will do what the president promised.

Marwa says foreign forces should have left Iraq immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and like many Iraqis she believes the United States had promised that would happen.

But no such promise was ever made, and on Monday, President Bush said American and coalition forces would be withdrawn only when Iraqi forces can take on the full responsibility for restoring order.

In Baghdad, coalition spokesman Dan Senor repeated the U.S. position.

"Coalition forces, American forces, will be on the ground here until we achieve our goal, which is to hand over to the Iraqi people a sovereign, democratic Iraq that is stable, that is at peace with itself, at peace with its own citizens, at peace with its neighbors, at peace with the United States of America and at peace with the world," he said.

But at Baghdad University, students were having a hard time understanding the coming period, when a sovereign Iraqi government will rely on foreign forces for security.

Twenty-three-year-old Khalid Sheik says he believes a government cannot be considered sovereign unless it has full control of its country's military and security forces.

Khalid says he wants all foreign troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible. And he says as long as Iraq's army and police are overseen by coalition forces, many Iraqis will continue to feel occupied.

Under the still-developing plan for the second half of this year, the Iraqi forces would be under the coalition command, but the new government would have significant influence on how the coalition operates. The Iraqi force would be able to decline to participate in operations the government feels are not justified.

A political science professor at Baghdad University, Abdul Jabar Ahmed, says he believes Iraqis remain skeptical of American promises to bring stability and democracy to the country because for generations they have had no leaders they could trust.

Professor Ahmed adds negative incidents involving U.S. troops, such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and mistaken raids on homes of innocent Iraqis, help justify mounting anger and disappointment among Iraqis.

But he says Iraqis must share some of the responsibility for that anger and disappointment because many people expected too much too soon from the occupation.

"Building democracy requires more than 100 years, maybe 700 years," he said. "Now, in one year, we are thinking that democracy must happen to the Iraqi people and every citizen must get a house, every Iraqi gets a high salary, and every Iraqi citizen has a passport. Democracy is not only authority. It is not only elections. It is not only government. Democracy is behavioral."

The process of selecting an interim government for Iraq is being overseen by the special U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, in close consultation with the United States.