0

Some Iraqis not ready for change

Suddenly, the U.S. economy has edged out Iraq as the most consuming issue for American voters. Not so for Iraqis.

Who wins the presidential election is of paramount importance to a nation finally approaching a semblance of normalcy. For some, regime change in America is not necessarily a welcome proposition.

Among those concerned about what might happen should Democrats prevail is Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite member of parliament and close adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Askari, who serves on parliament's foreign relations committee, has been outspoken in his criticism of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Nonetheless, this week he took a strong position favoring John McCain over Barack Obama. In an unpublished opinion article he wrote - and sent to me by way of a mutual friend and Iraqi journalist - Askari said that "Iraqis are better off with Republicans." (The Maliki government is officially neutral in the U.S. race, Askari told me in an e-mail.)

Askari's endorsement of McCain comes just three months after the Iraqi was critical of certain conditions proposed under the pending U.S.-Iraq status-of-forces agreement. The United States and Iraq began work on the longterm security agreement after Baghdad asked the United Nations not to renew the resolution that allowed U.S. and other multinational troops to enter Iraq in 2003.

This past June, Askari told The Washington Post:

"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq. If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"

As the presidential election draws near - and partly in response to Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate - Askari apparently has softened his rhetoric on the U.S. presence.

He still favors withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011, as proposed in the security treaty. And he figures that the deadline will be honored by whoever wins, if only for the sake of the 2012 American elections.

But changing now from a Republican to a Democratic administration would be problematic, he said - not least because Obama has said the U.S. Congress should be involved in any status-of-forces agreement with Iraq.

Askari also expressed concern about Biden's 2007 plan to divide Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions - Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni - with a central government in Baghdad. He called the Biden plan "the essence of a nightmare feared by Iraqis."

"Not that any of Biden's proposals will take effect, as the socio-political reality in Iraq is undividable," he continued. "But Iraqis will pay dearly until Biden and his camp are convinced that his 'theory' is inapplicable in Iraq."

Biden, whose son, Beau, deploys to Iraq on Oct. 3, proposed his plan when circumstances in Iraq were less stable than they are now. But as recently as this month, he has said that his plan is essentially becoming reality as each region becomes more autonomous.

Askari's main argument for a McCain presidency centers on concerns that Obama will need to appease his anti-war constituency, prompting a too-soon withdrawal of American troops. Obama has said he wants a gradual withdrawal - one or two brigades per month for 16 months, though he has left open the possibility of amending this schedule, subject to events.

Moreover, Askari said, Democrats eager for change will force Iraqis "to deal with a new group and to start all over again from scratch."

We're not talking love of Republicans here, but of continuity and fine-tuning as opposed to a dramatic change in perspective and policy. Askari clearly prefers McCain's.

"The Republicans have gone through the 'Iraqi experience' in both its positive and negative aspects," he wrote in his article. "After five years together, Republicans and Iraqis have come to certain understandings and mutual grounds, making it much easier for the Americans to better understand Iraq and its circumstances."

Meanwhile, Iraqis have succeeded in building their national security forces and continue to make ruin of al-Qaeda.

Askari also speculated that some Arab and Iraqi enthusiasm for Obama may be explained by a desire to embarrass or take revenge against George W. Bush - or perhaps by "covert arrangements" with other governments in the region.

The latter sounds a little paranoid to American ears, but paranoia in Iraq is not an unreasonable default position. Whatever Askari's own motivations - assuming that in politics there is always something - those who found his earlier "colonization" comments heartening may have to muffle their applause.

For Askari, at least for now, it appears that "staying the course" has a better ring than "change."

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at kparker@kparker.com.