Kathleen Parker

Suddenly, the U.S. economy has edged out Iraq as the most consuming issue for American voters. Not so for Iraqis.

Who wins the presidential election is of paramount importance to a nation finally approaching a semblance of normalcy. For some, regime change in America is not necessarily a welcome proposition.

Among those concerned about what might happen should Democrats prevail is Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite member of parliament and close adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Askari, who serves on parliament's foreign relations committee, has been outspoken in his criticism of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Nonetheless, this week he took a strong position favoring John McCain over Barack Obama. In an unpublished opinion article he wrote -- and sent to me by way of a mutual friend and Iraqi journalist -- Askari said that "Iraqis are better off with Republicans." (The Maliki government is officially neutral in the U.S. race, Askari told me in an e-mail.)

Askari's endorsement of McCain comes just three months after the Iraqi was critical of certain conditions proposed under the pending U.S.-Iraq status-of-forces agreement. The United States and Iraq began work on the long-term security agreement after Baghdad asked the United Nations not to renew the resolution that allowed U.S. and other multinational troops to enter Iraq in 2003.

This past June, Askari told The Washington Post:

"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq. If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.'"

As the presidential election draws near -- and partly in response to Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate -- Askari apparently has softened his rhetoric on the U.S. presence.

He still favors withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011, as proposed in the security treaty. And he figures that the deadline will be honored by whoever wins, if only for the sake of the 2012 American elections.

But changing now from a Republican to a Democratic administration would be problematic, he says -- not least because Obama has said the U.S. Congress should be involved in any status-of-forces agreement with Iraq.

Askari also expressed concern about Biden's 2007 plan to divide Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions -- Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni -- with a central government in Baghdad. He called the Biden plan "the essence of a nightmare feared by Iraqis."

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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