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Polling Data Shows Majority of Iraqis Want U.S. To Stay

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2004 – -- Even after the June 30 handover of authority in Iraq, the majority of Iraqis would prefer some form of U.S. security force in their country, coalition authorities said today.

Dan Senor, senior spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, told reporters during a briefing in Baghdad that polling data indicates the majority of Iraqis "don't want the U.S. to go."

"The important part is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis recognize that there is a role for U.S. forces after the June 30 handover," he said.

Senor said polling data taken by the coalition indicates that most Iraqis are grateful for the country's liberation and that the majority of Iraqis believe there is a role for U.S. forces in the long run because of worries the security situation will destabilize if the United States departs entirely. But the Iraqis polled also indicated they don't want to be occupied.

"So whether it comes out in the polling, or whether it comes out in discussion with Iraqis on the streets, or whether it comes out in discussions with the governing council or political leaders or religious leaders across the country, most of those individuals indicate that they want U.S. forces here," Senor said.

Senor told reporters that June 30 is not a "magical date" when coalition forces will "just disappear."

"That's not the case at all," he said. "June 30 is the date on which we hand over sovereignty -- we hand over political authority to the Iraqis to run their own country, to govern their own country."

Senor said that while CPA chief Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III will leave on June 30, "most of the operation that we've built up here will be in place as part of a U.S. mission."

Senor noted that the United States will establish an embassy in Iraq that will be the largest in the world, with an estimated budget of some $18.6 billion dollars. That money, he said, will not be spent in a matter of months, but "over a number of years."

"So the U.S. presence here will still be significant even though the Iraqis will be in charge of their own authorities," he said. "We will still have a large presence here; we will still work hand in hand with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government on the reconstruction of their country. They will be making the political decisions, but we will still be here in a very strong support mechanism on the civilian side."

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, answered Iraqi concerns that the country's security is still fragile and that the government could destabilized when U.S. forces depart. He told reporters that coalition forces "are not prepared to leave the country" and are prepared to continue the partnership with Iraqi security forces, its army and civil defense corps for the future.

"It is our intent to stay here as long as we're needed, as long as we're wanted, and that when we do depart in the future it will be because we have left behind a fully functioning, robust Iraqi security force that is capable of self-defense and public security," the general said.

Senor also reported that a status of forces agreement, which would govern U.S. forces in Iraq and which was negotiated in the Nov. 15th political agreement with the governing council, may not be in place by the end of March as agreed upon.

He said members of the governing council have indicated they would prefer a sovereign government approve the SOFA agreement. "We respect that and are open to it," Senor said. "I think the important point here is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis recognize that there is a role for U.S. forces after June 30th."

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