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Iraqis Welcome Trump’s Stance on ISIS, but Fear It May Backfire


Iraqi forces watched television coverage of President-elect Donald J. Trump in the village of Arbid on the southern outskirts of Mosul last week.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ERBIL, Iraq — Many Muslims in the Middle East have reacted with a mix of caution, suspicion and scorn to Donald J. Trump’s election victory and his appointments of aides with hostile views toward Islam.

Struggling to understand what Mr. Trump’s ascent means for their war-ravaged region, some have expressed hope that he will confront militant Islamist extremists far more aggressively than the Obama administration has done.

But others fear Mr. Trump’s views will be exploited as a recruiting tool by the Islamic State and other violent militants.

In Iraq, whose modern history has been profoundly shaped by the decisions of American presidents, officials and citizens alike are weighing Mr. Trump’s harsh words against his promise to defeat terrorism.

Surprisingly, some Iraqis seem less offended by Mr. Trump’s comments linking terrorism to Islam than American liberals.

Iraqis have endured years of Islam being used to justify mass killing, and some see Mr. Trump as a truth-teller in calling out Islam — or a certain brand of it — as the problem.

Iraqi Shiites, in particular, say they believe Mr. Trump will take a harder line on Saudi Arabia, the regional Sunni power that many see as the incubator of the extreme form of Islam, known as Wahhabism, that forms a basis of the Islamic State’s ideology.

“The victory of Trump is the beginning of the end of extremist Islam and Wahhabism,” said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, an Iraqi lawmaker and the country’s former national security adviser.

In Mr. Trump’s vow to defeat terrorism many Iraqis say they have hope that decisive American power will be marshaled to eradicate the Islamic State, the extremist group also known as ISIS, which has occupied parts of Iraq and Syria for the past two years.

“We have no concerns about the policy of Trump because he is against extremism,” said Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “We think we are facing one enemy, and that is fighting ISIS. Therefore, I do not think there are fears or concerns about a new American policy.”

On Friday, Mr. Abadi spoke by phone with Mr. Trump for the first time, and a statement released by the prime minister’s office said the two leaders affirmed the cooperation between their two countries in the fight against the Islamic State. According to the statement, Mr. Trump told Mr. Abadi, “you are essential partners to us and you will find strong and deep support.”

But Mr. Trump’s invective against Muslims during the campaign, and his apparent intent to put those feelings into policy with his appointments, represented a deep betrayal to the many Iraqis who worked as translators alongside the American military in Iraq, and have dreamed of immigrating to the United States under a special visa program that will now be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency.

“Though six years have passed, I was still hoping to get a call at any moment that would represent the fulfillment of the promise they made to me,” said Ali Najam Abdullah, who worked as an interpreter for the American military in Anbar Province for five years.

He said seeing Mr. Trump win the presidency, “has given me a clear image that dream has totally vanished.”

Some local leaders in areas of Iraq that have known firsthand the Islamic State’s brutality expressed alarm that an American government seen as virulently anti-Muslim could become a potent recruiting tool for jihadist groups.

“There is concern about the policy of Trump toward the Muslims because America is not just any state,” said Kareem al-Jibouri, a member of the provincial council in Diyala Province. “It is a powerful state, and we are concerned that any extreme policy toward Muslims will help extreme movements by polarizing thousands of the youths and turning them into time bombs by recruiting them.”

He echoed a widespread belief here that it was American policies that led to the creation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor of the Islamic State, in the first place, by alienating Iraq’s Sunni minority, which turned to extremists for protection from what they regarded as an abusive Shiite-led government. “We fear that they may practice the same wrong policies that were behind creating Al Qaeda and ISIS,” he said.

A well-known Sunni cleric in the Iraqi city of Samarra, Sheikh Omar Mohammad al-Samarri, in an interview used defiant language, and raised the prospect of more jihad to push back at Mr. Trump’s positions.

“Islam is not weak and we do not accept the fighting of the West against us, and we will stand against Trump and his state,” he said. “Trump must return to his senses because the Muslims are not a TV show. They are a nation subject to the rules of heaven, which calls for jihad in some cases.”

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