IRAQ: McCain or Obama? It's all in the wrist
Baghdad - It's all in the wrist, Abu Ali Wazan said as he pondered who would, and should, become the next U.S. president.
His choice is John McCain, because the Republican wants to leave U.S. forces in Iraq, where Wazan is convinced they are needed to prevent a resurgence of sectarian war. Because Wazan has seen photographs that he says show McCain with a watch on his right wrist, he said it stands to reason that McCain will defeat Barack Obama. Never mind that what appears to be a watch is actually a bracelet bearing the name of an American soldier killed in Baghdad. Wazan, who runs a sporting goods store, is convinced.
"Olmert also has his watch on his right hand," Wazan added, a reference to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is shown in photographs with his right wrist clearly adorned with a timepiece.
Obama, when he wears a watch, keeps it on his left wrist, not the sign of a winner, said Wazan, whose analysis of the situation is about as scientific as it gets here.
There are no public opinion polls in Iraq. Iraqis questioned about the U.S. election generally have a personal choice, but whatever that choice is, most dismiss the idea that the winner will bring change to their lives. Some say America's desire to dominate global events will forever leave Iraq under its occupation; others say Iraq's government holds the ultimate power when it comes to whether American forces stay or go; and others say the next president's four-year term simply won't be enough time to undo the effects of years of war.
Whatever their opinions, Iraqis certainly are following the presidential race, and questions about the candidates tend to unleash pent-up fury over everything that has gone wrong in Iraq since the American invasion of March 2003. Perhaps that's why of 26 queried, 10 said they thought Obama, who opposed the war, was the best choice for the United States and for Iraq. Six favored McCain. Nine said they had no opinion and argued that neither Obama nor McCain would improve things.
One man opted jokingly for Kennedy as the best hope for America and for Iraq, although he did not say which Kennedy.
"The American strategy toward Iraq will remain the same" under either Obama or McCain said the man, an engineer named Alaa Qassum Dilami. But Dilami predicted an Obama victory, mentioning the factor that few Americans are comfortable discussing but that is frequently cited by Iraqis here: race.
"I believe the Americans are ready to welcome their first black president to the White House and that they have overcome the dilemma of racism," said Dilami.
Ziad Fakher agreed. "The black man will win. He is more popular and has made good promises to the American people," he said, adding that he personally prefers McCain because of Obama's desire to pull American troops from Iraq. "This may diminish security not only in Iraq, but in the whole of the Middle East," he said.
For Mohammad Eqbal Omer, a university professor, Obama's race is a key issue because of what he believes is Americans' desire for change. "I expect Obama to win because the American people look for the American dream, which is to eradicate racism and remove boundaries between the races," said Omer. "In addition, he uses the slogan of change, and that is what the young people like."
Here is a look at what other Iraqis are saying about the U.S. vote:
-- Khawla Nasrallah, bank manager: "Obama will win. I saw him on TV. He has more charisma. He is good-looking, more active and eager to work. He also seems to be more humanitarian than McCain. He is decent and fair and hopefully will bring justice to us here in Iraq."
--_Adnan Shakily, civil servant: "Of course Obama will win because all the preliminary reports state he is ahead. The Republicans were in power for the past eight years and they have demonstrated their failure. At this stage, it requires a new party to take over, and the Democrats are definitely more fit for this job."
-- Salam Raheem, security guard: "Never mind who will win, the American policy will not change. He will follow the same path and finish what his predecessor has started. Democrats and Republicans are just names as far as Iraqis are concerned. There is one agenda and whoever holds the (president's) chair will continue the other's job."
-- Jalal Falih, tradesman: "I'm with the Republican candidate, McCain, since he represents and knows Iraqi reality without making fiery statements about the withdrawal from Iraq. We oppose a … complete withdrawal since the Iraqi forces are not ready to handle their security responsibility."
-- Ahmed Adnan, construction company owner: "I think it would be a disaster if Obama were to win and implement his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. I agree that the Iraqi government and its security forces have made lots of progress during the past several months, but this tends to be overstated by the media. I still think the situation could revert, because Iraq still needs a long time to heal."
-- Amer Abdullah, truck driver: "I don't think it would make any difference whoever wins. Maybe it will make a difference in U.S. domestic policy, but I think the foreign policy is set in stone. I think most of the U.S. troops would vote for Obama if he is in fact their ticket out of this country. Iraqis want to leave this country. I can't fathom any of these troops wanting to stay here."
-- Naji Sabber, retired: "I don't think the new president will make any changes. Maybe gradually in the long run we will see some improvement, but no way soon. It will be done by evolution. It needs time to make up for all the mistakes committed by the previous administration."
-- Sinan Mohammed Ali, civil servant: "McCain encourages fighting and wars similar to Bush, but Obama is more decent."
--Caesar Ahmed and Tina Susman in Baghdad
Photos: Sen. John McCain waves to volunteers working inside his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press. Sen. Barack Obama walks after deplaning in Swanton, Ohio. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
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