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Basra, the port city next to Kuwait, was once peaceful and metropolitan. It was vacated by the British in September leaving Shiite militias vying for power. The Mahdi army militiamen won control and began the hunt for collaborators. The Sadr militia quickly set up office.

Mogtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army give us a glimpse of the future for the rest of Iraq once we follow the British example. The view is not pretty. Assassins accompanied the takeover. Westernized women quickly became prey to marauders for violating strict regulations on clothing. Interpretors and contractors who worked for the British became prey. Check points quickly became tollgates at the whim of those manning the check points. The Sadr office dispensed justice, imposed strict Sharia law.

Change the names, faces, organization's identity, and the formula will apply to other major cities in Iraq once the occupation ends.

The British recognized that there is no way Iraq can now be transformed into the Neocon vision of a democracy happily pumping oil for British and American petroleum companies. And they left the city rather than prolong the agony.

With all due respect for General Petraeus, achieving military goals do little more than that. The political temperature will determine the governance, and it is soaring steadily higher. Governance in Iraq will be resolved as it always has been--by the centuries-old conflicts among the several Islamic factions who make their homes in Iraq. All factions want the occupation to end. The end will come when the American people, like the British, have had enough and exercise their will through the ballot box.

The people of Iraq are already the heavy losers. By some estimates, some 60,000 civilians per month now flee the slaughter to neighboring states to avoid the bloodshed. Evidently that bleeding was not among the military objectives of the US army. How many Iraqis have died as a result of a war they did not choose will never be known.

Condoleeza Rice predicted democracy would sweep the Middle East. It seems ever more likely that Islamic fundamentalism will triumph instead. Add a resurging Taliban and ally desertions to the debacle in Iraq, and the picture is gloomy indeed. Where is the statesman with the stature of General Petraeus? Guns alone cannot win the war of ideas.

Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
Bob Dylan

Dylan captured one moral. There is another:

Humanity's gravest danger comes not from what we know, but from what we "know" that isn't so. Paraphrasing Mark Twain

How can we proceed from here?
How about trying the ballot box?


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