BAGHDAD, Iraq – Many Iraqis found bitter irony in President Bush’s insistence last week that Syria must withdraw from Lebanon before it holds elections, for Iraqis have lived with foreign tanks in their streets for two years and voted barely a month ago under the watchful eye of the U.S. Army.
“He must have forgotten that his army is occupying Iraq,” said Sa’ad Abdul Aziz, 21, an engineering student at Baghdad University. “What about the Republican Palace that they are using as a U.S. Embassy?”
While many here were glad to see Saddam Hussein driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion, almost two years later they bristle at the sight of American soldiers patrolling their streets and are deeply embarrassed that the U.S. Embassy occupies Iraq’s version of the White House.
As Bush harped all week on the theme that democracy could not be free in Lebanon under the occupation of Syria’s troops, jokes made the rounds at Iraqi universities, some who have demanded the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops found themselves quoting Bush, a man they never thought they’d agree with.
“America should get out of Iraq immediately and without conditions, just like it is asking neighboring Syria to withdraw from the Lebanese Republic,” said Sheikh Nasir Al-Saidi, imam of a mosque in the restive Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, in a front-page article Saturday in the newspaper Azzaman.
In Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province, only a tiny percentage of the people voted in January’s elections, which Bush hails as a triumph of democracy. Some boycotted at the urging of Sunni leaders who said the elections couldn’t be fair as long as American troops were here.
When Bush offered the same argument in a different context last week – arguing that Lebanese democracy could not function properly until Syria’s forces leave – he sparked anger in some quarters.
“For us it is a joke said by the U.S. president,” Ahmed Mushref, 25 an English literature student in Al-Mustansyria University in Baghdad. “I am not defending Syria, but this is the truth.”