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What the British learned in 1920 by not leaving Iraq

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It's one of the loneliest places in Baghdad - the British military cemetery, where hundreds of forlorn gravestones attest to the price of imperialism in Iraq.

In 1920, a Shiite revolt erupted against British occupiers, who had arrived in Mesopotamia at the start of World War I. Britain pushed out Ottoman forces, but didn't move fast enough to create a promised new nation state. The uprising surprised the British, left more than 2,200 occupation troops and an estimated 8,450 Iraqis dead or wounded - and cost, by one account, three times as much as British financing of the entire Arab revolt against the Ottomans.

Today the US faces the same dilemma that dogged the British: How to grant self-rule to Iraqis as promised, while keeping overall control. Despite rhetoric from Washington that it will transform Iraq into a democratic beacon in the Mideast, few Iraqis believe the US is sincere.

"The Americans believe in democracy, but they do not believe in its results," says Gailan Ramiz, an Iraqi political scientist with degrees from Princeton, Harvard, and Oxford. "The ballot box should rule - period. It is so in America, and it should be so in Iraq. It can't be avoided by any more tactics." Changing such attitudes will require the US to learn lessons from the British colonial experience - lessons applied only fitfully so far. Among them:

Take steps to satisfy Iraqi expectations.

The US-appointed Governing Council signed an interim constitution on Monday, and Washington insists that it will hand sovereignty back to Iraqis on June 30. Elections for an interim assembly are due next January. But American troops will not be going home this summer if bloody resistance attacks continue, and few Iraqis expect the US to cede real control.


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