Friday, March 24, 2006

Iraqis in Tal Afar question Bush‘s optimism

TAL AFAR, Iraq - U.S. President George W. Bush President George W. Bush held up the northern town of Tal Afar this week as an example of progress being made in Iraq but many residents find it hard to share his optimism.

Bush said this week that Tal Afar has become "a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq" after U.S.-led forces freed it from al Qaeda militants in a 2005 offensive.

Although townspeople say there has been less violence since the assault, they share many of the complaints of other Iraqis watching sectarian violence tearing their country apart.

These days it is Iraq‘s security forces, drawn heavily from the Shi‘ite majority, not Sunni Arab al Qaeda militants from nearby Syria , that make many people in Tal Afar nervous.

"When we stop at a checkpoint they ask us whether we are Sunni or Shi‘ite. That is worrying. We are one people and were never divided before," said Fatma Mohammad Ali, 38, a teacher who is a member of Tal Afar‘s ethnic Turkmen Shi‘ite minority.

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