As U.S. Troops Depart, Some Iraqis Fear Their Own

An Iraqi army soldier and a U.S. Army soldier stand guard during a joint patrol in Mosul in March 2009.

In Iraq, the pullout of U.S. troops is picking up pace. By Sept. 1, the number of U.S. forces in Iraq will be pared to about 50,000 troops, part of a massive drawdown to continue in 2011 under an agreement negotiated with Baghdad.

But many Iraqi soldiers, especially at installations recently placed in their control by the U.S. military, have come to rely on American largesse to keep the facilities running.

And as U.S. troops withdraw, many Iraqis feel a growing mistrust of the Iraq security forces that are supposed to protect them. Some of the Iraqi forces behave with impunity, and as a result, Iraqis say, they are now more afraid of them than the insurgency.

That has some Iraqi security officials wondering whether they can trust their government to fund the army and police as the Americans have. And the situation has some Iraqis wondering if they can rely on their own Iraqi forces.

Maj. Gen. Bahaa Noori Yaseen is the head of the Basra Brigade, which is under the direct supervision of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In theory, he should be able to get whatever he wants for his men. But it is not the case, he says.

“We are complaining in the shortage in the money. We have no budget at all in our division and even in federal police,” Yaseen says.

Iraq earns billions of dollars in oil revenue a month. But still, the security services and other Iraqi agencies depend on the U.S for help.

Some $600,000 in improvements at the large facility transferred to Yaseen’s control from the Americans about a year ago came not from Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, but from the U.S military.

“I should be honest with you. You should know the facts. I get everything from the Americans. What I need, I just ask the Americans. It’s easy to get everything from the Americans,” Yaseen says.

The generator at his largely unoccupied facility was donated by the Iraqi government, but doesn’t work, and in any case there is no money for fuel. And there is only about one hour of electricity out of seven from the city’s power grid.

To get everything up to scratch, Yaseen says he has had to dig into his own coffers. “By the way, I paid many times from my pocket,” he says.

And that’s not the only reason some Iraqis are beginning to miss the Americans.

‘We Do Not Feel Safe’

In the mainly Sunni Baghdad district of Adhimiyah, the leader of the local paramilitary organization the Sons of Iraq was assassinated recently.

Ziyad Tariq Nouri, a 33-year-old shop owner, witnessed the killing. He says he believes the security forces colluded in the murder.

“Usually there would be an Iraqi army Humvee parked in front of the coffee shop where the victim sat. But on that day, the Humvee was not there,” Nouri says.

Nouri says Iraq’s security services are now feared here.

“When they search a house, we do not feel safe. When they detain someone, we panic because we don’t know why our young men are taken or to where,” Nouri says.

Lowering his voice, he says that security was better under the Americans.

“Americans used to patrol this street, and they would come asking what we need. Iraqi soldiers don’t pay attention to us. They just talk on their cell phones ignoring our needs,” Nouri says.

Generally, the U.S. withdrawal is popular. American operations have left thousands of civilians dead or wounded. Most Iraqis still feel that their country is under occupation, even though tens of thousands of American soldiers have pulled out over the past year.

But many here, like Nouri, say it’s better to deal with the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

And there is a real fear about what happens after the last American soldier leaves.

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