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In Cafe Debate, a Victory for Elections

"Sometimes when the Americans say 'Good morning,' we get suspicious," said Yassin, a literary critic.

But there was none of the ferocious anger about the occupation often displayed in places such as Sadr City, loyal to a militant Shiite Muslim cleric, or predominantly Sunni Muslim neighborhoods like Adhamiyah. Instead, the three men said, they would wait it out.

A U.S. Army helicopter flies over billboards in central Baghdad that urge Iraqis to participate in national legislative elections on Jan. 30. (Atef Hassan -- Reuters)

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"Sooner or later, it will end," Yassin said. "History says so."

Along the walls near them were pictures of an earlier occupation: the entry into Baghdad in 1917 of British Maj. Gen. Stanley Maude at the head of the army that had defeated the Ottomans, the pontoon bridge he built across the Tigris, a British military checkpoint in 1923. Maude died during the war; Iraq didn't achieve independence until 1932.

"The Americans will leave," Karim said. "They will leave like the other occupiers, whether it's a short period or long."

In the meantime, the three men said, they would remain hopeful.

"I'm optimistic 1,000 percent," Danif exclaimed.

Karim nodded. "I'm twice as optimistic," he said.

Yassin smiled. "I'm optimistic, but I know there will be obstacles and difficulties."

He nodded to the others and said: "It's just the beginning."

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