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Political Reconstruction in Iraq: A Reality Check

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Plans for the political reconstruction of Iraq are bound to fail if they do not take into consideration that Iraq is not a political blank slate to be transformed at American will into a democratic, secular, pluralist, and federal state. It is a difficult country with multiple social groups and power centers with conflicting agendas. The United States must not try to impose a system of its own devising on these groups. Loose talk about bringing democracy to Iraq confuses what external actors can do and what Iraqis alone can accomplish.

The United States should also not underestimate the extent to which broader U.S. policies toward the Middle East and its handling of Iraq's oil will affect the willingness of parties within and outside Iraq to cooperate in its peaceful reconstruction. Washington's next steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in relations with Iran, and in shaping a new regional security system will determine whether the Iraq war is the beginning or the end of regional crisis and bloodshed.