Muslims react with hope, caution to Obama's offer of 'new way forward'

Citizens of Arab and Muslim countries around the globe appeared to welcome U.S. President Barack Obama's offer of a "new way forward" with the Muslim world, saying they're hopeful a new administration will bring new policies.

Citizens of Arab and Muslim countries around the globe appeared to welcome U.S. President Barack Obama's offer of a "new way forward" with the Muslim world, saying they're hopeful a new administration will bring new policies.

Viewed by an estimated worldwide television audience of more than 2 billion people, Obama included a direct call to the Muslim world in his inauguration speech Tuesday in Washington.

"We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said.

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," he continued.

In Iraq, where more than 140,000 U.S. troops are stationed, people watching the inauguration in a café in the northern city of  Sulaimaniyah cheered when Obama appeared on television but gave the thumbs-down when the cameras showed former U.S. president George W. Bush.

"I think that the U.S. image and policies will improve because Obama will try to avoid the awful mistakes committed by Bush," said Ripwar Karim, 26, a Kurdish merchant.

In Fallujah, engineer Ahmed Salih called Bush a "nightmare."

"Today, we got rid of a problem that lasted eight years," Salih said. "Bush divided Iraq instead of uniting it. He proclaimed democracy, but we haven't seen it."

Iraq ready for withdrawal

In his address, Obama said it is time to "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people." He has said he would withdraw all American combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, or by mid-2010.

Iraqi leaders said Tuesday they are ready to assume security for their country earlier than the end of 2011, the departure date agreed to by Bush.

The chairman of Iraq's parliamentary defence committee, Abbas al-Bayati, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the Iraqis hoped Obama would stick to the timeline in the agreement but said officials have a backup plan in case of an earlier withdrawal.

"Nevertheless, we already have a 'Plan B,' which is that we have the ability to deploy any needed troops to any hot area in Iraq," al-Bayati said. "We are capable of controlling the situation in the country, and we believe we have passed the worst."

Obama is spending part of his first full day as president meeting with military advisors on Iraq and Afghanistan. He is reportedly considering quickly naming former U.S. senator George Mitchell as his new Mideast envoy, say reports.

Egypt welcomes new U.S. president

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent Obama a congratulatory cable in which he urged the new president to make Mideast peace a priority. Egypt has taken the lead role in reaching a peace deal between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza.

The two sides recently ended three weeks of violence that saw hundreds of Palestinians killed, along with several Israelis, according to officials from both sides.

"I would like to stress that the region has high hopes that your administration will deal with the Palestinian issue from its first day as an immediate priority and a key for solving other issues in the Middle East, which faces shaking crises," Mubarak wrote to Obama.

A hard-line Islamist leader in Pakistan also welcomed Obama's message.

"We can also anticipate good hope provided Obama really takes a new course of action toward injustices the Muslim world is facing at this moment," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The British-based Muslim Council of Britain said Obama's intentions appeared "noble."

"I hope it ends the rift between the United States and the Muslim world, which has grown further and further in the last eight years," said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary general of the organization.

Sudan, which has been harshly criticized for its handling of the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Darfur, said it is optimistic the new president will bring a change in foreign policy.

Iran waiting for real action

Iran reacted coolly to Obama's inauguration, with government leaders saying they would wait to see what practical steps the new administration will take, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Western nations have accused Iran of developing a nuclear program in order to build weapons, a charge Tehran denies, maintaining its nuclear capacities are for energy purposes.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Obama needed to take action to correct a bad image of America in the world.

"A new Middle East is in the making," IRNA quoted Mottaki as saying. "The new generation in this region seeks justice and rejects domination. A change in Mideast policy is one of the areas ... if the new U.S. government claims to follow a policy of change."

Ordinary people appeared less than impressed with Obama's gesture toward the Muslim world.

A technician in Tunisia said he has little hope for real change because Obama remained silent about the violence between Israel and Hamas.

"He was silent over the Gaza massacre," said Zoubeir Bein Sassi, 40. "When Israel stopped the war, he spoke about a new start with the Muslim world. They are just words and nothing will be done on the ground."

In Lebanon, Zahi Abdo said Obama is the "same as Bush."

Lebanese political commentator Sateh Noureddin said:

"It is change in the language, [in addressing] the Muslim world, but I don't think there will be any change in the essence of the relationship with the Muslim world."