LI is cautiously optimistic about the latest developments in Iraq. It has always been our position that:

a. the U.S. occupation is neither motivated by the desire for democracy nor conducive to it;
b. that the insurgents are neither motivated by the desire for democracy nor conducive to it;
c. that the mass of Iraqis are motivated to produce a state that is democratic – has separate legislative, executive and judicial branches, has elections, guarantees certain basic rights.

Our opinion was that the struggle between the U.S. and the insurgents created a command vacuum in which democracy can actually happen – that is, in which the Iraqis can take power into their own hands. However, that struggle could equally stifle Iraqi autonomy. In fact, for the last four or five months, it has looked increasingly like stifling was the name of the game. Obviously, Allawi, the U.S. puppet, looks for his leadership cues to the standard Middle Eastern tyrant model. That he can use U.S. troops to devastate his opponents – as he has done in Najaf – gives him an advantage in Iraq. But that the U.S only cooperates in operations that it finds in its own interest is as definite a constraint as a noose. It is the noose in which Allawi is strangling. Meanwhile, Sadr represents the traditional combination of mafioso and religious leader by which the Iraqi poor have managed to extract a certain grudging level of services from the Iraqi elite. The price for this -- to the poor -- is extremely high. It freezes social arrangements, frees the state from its responsibility to its citizens, and establishes a strata of violent middlemen.

Sistani has ambiguously represented c. Ambiguity is so inscribed into his survival program that he has had a hard time letting it go. But the march from Basra to Najaf shows that he just might be the kind of Iraqi leader we’ve been longing for. At least it shows that he realizes Allawi is on a crash course with the popular will. That Americans think that nightly news showing young Iraqi men being ground into hamburger by American firepower will spontaneously light a fire of admiration for the Yankees in the Iraqi soul is further evidence of the American delusion that Iraq is located in some other part of the world, and inhabited solely by Rotarians and G.O.P. activists.

The NYT’s story about the end of the battle of Najaf drips with the embedded’s melancholic realization that Americans won’t have a chance to kick the maximum amount of ass. And so the war decays, day by day. Here’s how the NYT article ends:

“Since American troops toppled the Hussein government 16 months ago, Ayatollah Sistani has been careful to maintain an equivocal position on American military actions, usually condemning any use of force, by the Americans or the rebels. That left open the possibility that in Najaf, he could distance himself from the Americans by condemning the damage inflicted on the Old City by American bombs and tanks, and even leave Mr. Sadr free to claim that he acted all along to defend the shrine against American attacks.
One of the last American actions before the cease-fire went into effect involved the use of a 2,000-pound, laser-guided bomb to strike a hotel about 130 yards from the shrine's southwest wall, in an area known to American commanders as "motel row."”
The reporters (Filkins and Burns) just loved that last parting shot.

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