Iraqis' big issue: US exit plan
US troops are vital to security for Sunday's vote, but pressure is growing for them to leave.
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One of the major factors behind the rejection of the elections by large parts of Iraq's Sunni Arab majority is the absence of a schedule for a US departure. Yet on the face of it, there already is a timetable for US withdrawal.Skip to next paragraph
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UN Security Council Resolution 1546, which provides the legal umbrella for the US-led military presence in Iraq, stipulates "that this mandate shall expire upon the completion of the political process ... and declares that it will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the Government of Iraq."
The political process referred to is the passing of a new constitution and the electing of the new government, which are supposed to happen by the end of 2005.
"Many of the people opposed to this election have demanded a timetable for US forces to leave - but they don't seem to know that there already is a timetable,'' says Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni Arab politician who has tried to encourage Sunni participation in Sunday's election and is heading his own list of candidates.
"What we wanted from the Americans is a clear statement to the effect that they would abide fully by the resolution,'' he says. "But they refused to do so, so it seems the suspicions of the people have some basis in fact."
Such emerging attitudes are making one of the hoped-for US outcomes of the war - an enduring US military presence here - look increasingly unlikely.
One of the strategic arguments for invading Iraq was that it would lead to a US-friendly democracy that would allow America to replace its military presence in Saudi Arabia - a touchy issue because of the country's position as the cradle of Islam - with one in Iraq that would allow America to keep shaping the regional balance of power. Across the Iraqi political spectrum, almost everyone agrees that long-term bases here could prove destabilizing.
But in the short term, US officials expect a new government - which is likely to be under fire from Day 1 - will not demand a fast pullout.
"I think the new government is going to look at all the problems, look into the abyss, and this is not going to be a problem,'' says a senior US diplomat.
That reliance couldn't be clearer at this school, where concrete barriers block all vehicle entry for 300 feet on all sides.
"We've got to mold the battlefield," says Capt. T.J. Foley. "We're putting a lot on them at once. This [plan for election day] needs to evolve - they will get it all together on the day."
Captain Foley, a US Army infantry officer from Nashville, Tenn., asks the police commander how many assault rifles need to be issued to his units here, and checks the number of rounds each will carry in his pistol. Visel takes careful notes on the map cards.
Foley advises on layout and positioning, using a past incident as a warning: Three national guardsmen were in a cluster, Foley recalls, when a suicide bomber "strolled right up to them, leaving body parts all over the place."
"This is their election. We will be on the periphery. They have enough people for this," says Foley.
Still, no one knows the dangers that could await more than police Col. Salman Karim. Iraqi police have been frequent targets of insurgents.
"We have never had an election like this in our lives. It needs more time [to create democracy]-it's like building a house, it takes time," says Colonel Karim.
Despite the risks, the police in all his units have so far showed up for work. "They have to know," he says, "that they may die, and have to be ready."