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In Iraq, Insurgents See Opportunity in U.S. Drawdown

August 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In the wake of deadly coordinated bombings across Iraq earlier this week, Margaret Warner reports on the ongoing threat of violence as the U.S. winds down its combat mission and previews her upcoming series on the next steps for Iraq and its people.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now to Iraq, where Margaret Warner has been working on a series of stories at a time of major transition.I talked with her from Baghdad earlier today.

Margaret, this has been a very violent week there, coinciding with the final drawdown of U.S. combat troops.What’s the fallout been in terms of national politics and the psyche of people you have talked to?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, the reaction here, first of all, is mirrored in the various voices in the media here.So, it depends what political persuasion a particular station is reflecting, in terms of what kind of sound bites they get from people and just the drift of the stories.So, for instance, the stations that support the government of Prime Minister Maliki are saying this is sort of a desperate attempt by the terrorist elements to sow lack of confidence in the people, that it will totally fail.

Then you have other satellite networks here that reflect the feeling that in fact the government can’t protect the people.Talking to people ourselves, what we are hearing is some nervousness that the Iraqi security forces can handle this on its — on their own, with the drawdown of American forces here.

What is interesting is what it hasn’t triggered.It has not triggered as spectacular terrorist incidents did say in ’07, a wave of sectarian reprisals.And, in fact, what you are hearing from all voices, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, is this message, which is, this is a very difficult, challenging time for Iraq, because it’s a time of transition, both in terms of troops, but also in terms of putting together a government, and that it’s important for all Iraqis to stick together.And that’s a new tone and so far seems to be holding.

JEFFREY BROWN: A lot of the violence is targeted to police, right?

MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, and at a much greater rate than before.In the first five months of the year, there were 180 security forces, Iraq security forces, killed in this kind of thing.Just in the last three months — and the third month isn’t quite over — there have been something like 270.So, the police are very much the target.

What we’re told is that this is a clear — or at least the U.S. military believes — a clear strategy on the part of anti-government elements to strike at the weakest link.It’s really hard for them now to cause much damage to U.S. forces and even to the Iraqi army.

But the police are on the front lines in checkpoints all over this country and this city of Baghdad and elsewhere.And they’re the ones who are pulling cars over in an attempt — and searching them to try to protect the city.Those very checkpoints are now becoming perilous places themselves.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, President Obama has, of course, scheduled a prime-time address next week to talk about Iraq.What are the expectations or hopes that you pick up there about what he might say and what the American stance might be going forward?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, again, you hear a complete range of views.Last night, in Najaf, one woman said to me she hoped that, in fact, President Obama would announce that America’s not going to abandon Iraq.But more common was — were comments that we heard from other people who were there breaking the fast at the Shrine of Ali, one of the holiest Shiite shrines in this country, who said — this young woman who was studying English literature said to me:I just want him to announce when all U.S. forces will be out.

And then there was one young man who was particularly interesting.He said, maybe, in other countries, what he has to say on Iraq will be of great interest, but he said, here in Iraq, whatever he says isn’t going to solve our electricity problem.It isn’t going to put together a government for us.And it really isn’t going to fix anything that affects our ordinary lives.

So, again, the diversity of opinion, I think, there was — was what was really remarkable, to me.

JEFFREY BROWN: Finally, Margaret, speaking of next week, tell us about some of the stories that you are preparing for us.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, we’re going look at, first of all, the military drawdown.What is that going to mean for both U.S. and Iraqi forces and whether they are ready?Then, the daily life of Iraqis — I mean, how safe do they feel?

We will look at the mystery of why most Iraqis, despite billions and billions spent on the electricity grid, don’t have adequate electricity in a summer of 120-degree heath.And we will also look at this political issue, which — and without going inside the Baghdad beltway, why six years after voters here went to the poll, they still don’t have a government.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Margaret, we will look for those stories next week.Margaret Warner is in Baghdad. Take care of yourself.