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In Iraq, US influence wanes as full-scale civil war looms

Today's grim reality is in sharp contrast to the faith many Iraqis once held that the Americans would bring a better life.

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Every day, more violence. And more uncertainty for Iraqis than they have ever known, as they mark three years since American troops invaded.

The wave of optimism that once buoyed Iraqis after the fall of Saddam Hussein is now being marked as yet another casualty of the bombs and murders that are part of daily life here.

But even as Iraq slides toward full-scale civil war, Iraqi analysts are trying to envision a way out of a vicious insurgency, political deadlock, and sectarian bloodshed.

One factor they are considering is the changing American role. Despite the continued presence of 130,000 American troops, and arm-twisting efforts by US diplomats to forge a unity government, Iraq's democratic political process is, by definition, giving the US even less leverage to shape this broken nation's future.

"The majority of Iraqis are now against this occupation, whether they are Sunni, Shiite or Kurd," says Wamidh Omar Nadhmi, a political scientist who heads a Sunni-led group called the Foundation Conference. "But those in government positions are trying to unleash a campaign of suppression, to take advantage [of the violence], to dominate.

"Now we are told: '[The Americans] are not going to take sides,' " says Mr. Nadhmi, referring to remarks by US officials last week that Iraqi forces must handle sectarian strife on their own. "But if it comes to civil war, and the US does not try to keep order, as the controlling power, then why do they stay in Iraq?"

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in a maelstrom of insurgent violence. Many hundreds more are dying in sectarian killings that flared a month ago, after the destruction of the gold-domed Shiite shrine at Samarra.

The grim reality today - and the perception among so many Iraqis that the US is responsible - could not be in sharper contrast from the faith Iraqis once held, that the all-powerful Americans would solve their problems.

"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war," Iyad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, told BBC news Sunday. "We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

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