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Iraqis Offer Mixed Reactions to Rumsfeld Departure

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's move next to Iraq, where the resignation of American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is causing some nervousness. There's concern that his departure might produce a change in U.S. operations. While some Iraqis have long sought the U.S. withdrawal, many, especially those in the Shiite-led government, are fearful that without American troops, the country could descend into chaos.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.

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JAMIE TARABAY: The news dominated Arab television headlines last night. Arab pundits speculated what this would mean for U.S. troops in Iraq. Would they stay or would they go? But Iraqi politicians maintain the same line they had throughout the day when responding to news of the Democratic victory on Tuesday: We deal with a government, not a single person.

Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh.

Mr. ALI DABBAGH (Iraqi Government Spokesman): Iraqi government has commented for the road map(ph), which is being drawn by the prime minister and the President Bush.

TARABAY: Dabbagh said he had no reason to believe that Robert Gates, nominated to be Rumsfeld's replacement, would veer from that strategy. But the Democratic victory and Rumsfeld's resignation instilled enough nervousness about future U.S. plans here in Iraq that American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad held a reception for Iraqi journalists and went on state television to reassure Iraqis that the United States wasn't going anywhere.

Elections can be polarizing events, exaggerating the differences between leaders and between parties, Khalilzad told them. He stressed it's President Bush who's the commander-in-chief and the architect of American foreign policy, and that the president is still committed to succeeded in Iraq.

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Fardo Fatah(ph) is sitting at a table with his coworkers in an electronic store in Karrada, Baghdad's shopping district. He thinks Rumsfeld's resignation was a huge blow but at the same time voices a sort of conflicted emotions many Iraqis here have towards the American troops.

Mr. FARDO FATAH (Baghdad Resident): (Through translator) We don't want them to stay. We don't want them to withdraw. We want a timetable for them to leave Iraq so we can control things, because the Iraqi government is a failure.

TARABAY: The violence continues unabated. Yesterday, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed eight gunmen and detained 14 others after an ambush outside a small town Kirkuk in the north. One American soldier was killed and three others were wounded in that battle.

The U.S. military reported yesterday that American soldiers killed 38 gunmen and wounded nine others in a firefight in Baghdad on Sunday that lasted an hour and a half. U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell says American soldiers are still committed to securing Iraq, although he acknowledges that goal may be long in coming.

Major General WILLIAM CALDWELL (U.S. Military Spokesman): If you talk to them, to the young soldier out there in Baghdad, you see what Baghdad can be when the people do work together. But they also (unintelligible) too, because it's still very challenging for them out there.

TARABAY: That challenge was starkly apparent this morning, when a series of bombs across the Iraqi capital killed at least 12 people and wounded scores more.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.