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U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq

The remains of a bombed barber shop in Baghdad, where three people were killed, draw the interest of Iraqis in June. Islamic extremists, some of whom believe beards reflect religious piety, have been targeting the shops for attack and killing barbers. In response, barbers are posting signs stating that they do not shave men.
The remains of a bombed barber shop in Baghdad, where three people were killed, draw the interest of Iraqis in June. Islamic extremists, some of whom believe beards reflect religious piety, have been targeting the shops for attack and killing barbers. In response, barbers are posting signs stating that they do not shave men. (By Ceerwan Aziz -- Reuters)

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"We didn't calculate the depths of feeling in both the Kurdish and Shiite communities for a winner-take-all attitude," said Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University.

In the race to meet a sequence of fall deadlines, the process of forging national unity behind the constitution is largely being scrapped, current and former officials involved in the transition said.

"We are definitely cutting corners and lowering our ambitions in democracy building," said Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert who worked with the U.S. occupation government and wrote the book "Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq."

"Under pressure to get a constitution done, they've lowered their own ambitions in terms of getting a document that is going to be very far-reaching and democratic. We also don't have the time to go through the process we envisioned when we wrote the interim constitution -- to build a democratic culture and consensus through debate over a permanent constitution," he said.

The goal now is to ensure a constitution that can be easily amended later so Iraq can grow into a democracy, U.S. officials say.

On security, the administration originally expected the U.S.-led coalition to be welcomed with rice and rosewater, traditional Arab greetings, with only a limited reaction from loyalists of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The surprising scope of the insurgency and influx of foreign fighters has forced Washington to repeatedly lower expectations -- about the time-frame for quelling the insurgency and creating an effective and cohesive Iraqi force capable of stepping in, U.S. officials said.

Killings of members of the Iraqi security force have tripled since January. Iraq's ministry of health estimates that bombings and other attacks have killed 4,000 civilians in Baghdad since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's interim government took office April 28.

Last week was the fourth-worst week of the whole war for U.S. military deaths in combat, and August already is the worst month for deaths of members of the National Guard and Reserve.

Attacks on U.S. convoys by insurgents using roadside bombs have doubled over the past year, Army Brig. Gen. Yves Fontaine said Friday. Convoys ferrying food, fuel, water, arms and equipment from Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey are attacked about 30 times a week, Fontaine said.

"There has been a realistic reassessment of what it is possible to achieve in the short term and fashion a partial exit strategy," Yaphe said. "This change is dictated not just by events on the ground but by unrealistic expectations at the start."

Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.

"We've said we won't leave a day before it's necessary. But necessary is the key word -- necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it will probably be for us," a U.S. official said.


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