Onscene: Baghdad's Election Reaction

For Iraqis, there was a lot to digest. More than most observers of this week’s U.S. elections, they have a personal stake in its outcome. But as the news about the Democratic takeover of the House and the departure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld trickled in, their reactions were far from unanimous. Some were pleased; some were afraid and some were just plain cynical. "What difference does it make to people like me?" asked Ahmed Ibrahim, a 38-year-old shop owner in Baghdad. "To us our daily hope and mission is to dodge assassins and bombs and all types of death."

Elsewhere in the Iraqi capital, U.S ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to reassure an audience of Iraqi government officials and journalists that the "aftermath" of the U.S midterms wouldn’t bring sweeping changes. "It does look like there will be a change in the balance of power in Congress between our two leading parties," he said in written statements on Wednesday. "The American people know that this is very difficult. They are concerned about the killing of innocent on the streets of Baghdad. This bloodshed sometimes causes some, understandably, to wonder whether Iraqis can succeed."

Iraqis were wondering the same thing. "The American people have to realize that the political process in Iraq is as unsuccessful as Rumsfeld is," said Saleh al-Mutlaq, a conservative Sunni politician and erstwhile supporter of the rights of the Iraqi national resistance. Out on the streets, Manal Adil, a 21-year old college student in the upscale district of Mansour, believed the Democrats were criticizing the war in Iraq solely to win over U.S. voters. "I do not think that the U.S policy would change in Iraq if they took control of Congress," she said. Still, she was happy that Americans, "or at least a respectable amount of them "do not believe the lies" of the Bush administration. "They didn’t achieve anything good in Iraq and the Americans decided to kick the Republicans out of power."

Um Saif, a 47-year-old physician, had a more downbeat take. At least the Republicans have a stake in his country, he says. "What concerns me is that the Democrats have less to care about Iraq than the Republicans. They are urging to pull troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. That would mean they would leave before they settle everything, especially the security situation. I think the Republicans are the only ones who can achieve this task."

To many Iraqis, though, it made little difference which party is dominating Washington. "I remember the ’90’s, when Clinton was president and he was insisting on prolonging the unjust embargo," says Mohammed Hassan Nassir, 34, a teacher from the Shiite neighborhood of Hurriya City, "The embargo was imposed by George Bush the father and maintained by Clinton and then followed by this occupation now. So it’s all the same for us Arab Muslims, whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power."

But if Iraqis were derisive, U.S. troops in the capital seemed more sanguine--at least about the political changes back home. In the fortified Green Zone, a group of soldiers stood chatting outside the Ibn Sina Hospital as the election results came in on Wednesday. But they weren’t talking about the nation’s winners and losers. The men, from the First Stryker Brigade Combat Team based out of Fort Lewis, Washington, had come to the hospital to deliver some wounded soldiers for treatment. They waited for news of their comrades. They smoked cigarettes. Someone turned up the volume on a stereo inside one of the Strykers and a loud hip-hop song emerged. Some began to wrestle. They talked about Ghaziliyah, the Sunni neighborhood they patrol. Lately, death squads have been coming in and killing Shiites, they said.

"They just keep killing each other," said one soldier.

"It wasn’t like this a few months ago, but now it’s really bad," said another, "We got hit by an IED. The [Shiite] Mehdi Army did it. We know that."

A little while later one of the injured soldiers emerged from the hospital. He hobbled over on a pair of crutches and climbed in the back of the Stryker.

A nearby soldier was putting on his flak vest and helmet. What about the elections? He smirked. "It doesn’t really matter either way, does it? I mean, we’re not getting out of here any time soon, are we?" He snapped the buckle on his helmet and stepped into the back of the Stryker.

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