In her Nov. 8 op-ed on the future of democracy in Iraq, Marina Ottaway discussed the need to take the risks inherent in competitive elections. "There is never going to be a better time to take that first difficult step into uncertainty in Iraq than now, when the presence of 140,000 American troops makes it unlikely that even a victory by Shiite parties would lead to a Khomeini-style Islamic republic," she wrote.

Inherent in this statement is the belief that, should elections result in a government of which we do not approve, we could unleash our troops to create the government the elections should have produced. That ideology seems more the product of "The Prince" than "The Federalist Papers."

Ms. Ottaway also assumed that the good guys, or least the acceptable ones, will win an Iraqi election. As attractive as that assumption may be, assume briefly that they do not. It was, after all, attractive assumptions colored by ideology that brought us to this point. Let us instead assume the majority elects a seemingly moderate Shiite-dominated government, but one bereft of the administration's preferred leaders.

And what if the new Iraqi prime minister politely informs the United States that its troops are neither welcome nor needed? What will our next step in nation-building be?

MICHAEL P. STEVENS

Houston

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By what reckoning are we to consider the conquest of Fallujah a success?

U.S. and Iraqi troops were brave and expert, no doubt: at a cost of 44 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers killed, and a little over 300 wounded, between 1,000 and 1,200 insurgents were killed [news story, Nov. 15]. But apparently we did not capture or kill any senior leaders.

The residents of a city of 300,000 were evacuated -- to where? -- and will return to smoking rubble. Mosques were defiled and a front-page news photograph shows Marines lounging in one with their boots on. A day later, a TV camera catches a Marine shooting a wounded man in a mosque; the military is investigating.

Meanwhile insurgents decamped to the north; they attacked Mosul's police stations and Kirkuk's oil pipeline and generally are up to a world of other mischief across the country. Critical Iraqi leaders are jumping off the election ship.

What new wonders will the looming Ramadi and Samarra operations bring us?

MICHAEL O'HARE

Berkeley, Calif.