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Iraq: US troops leave with a latte

Last American combat troops get ready to withdraw from Iraq.

Iraqi armored vehicles, rather than American MRAPs, careen through the streets with sirens blazing and guns drawn. Baghdad, now carved up with concrete wall blast barriers that were to come down but for the most part never did, is in almost constant gridlock.

For those lucky enough to have air-conditioned cars, the traffic jams are almost preferable to being at home, where electricity comes on for an hour and disappears for another four or five. Government clinics and offices with no city power and no generators limp along in the stifling summer heat. Iraqis have long since given up.

The sectarian cleansing of the country’s civil war has left its legacy in a jigsaw puzzle of once-mixed neighborhoods that are now reduced to mixed streets. More than 1 million Iraqis who fled the country, a disproportionate number of them Sunnis, wait for a reason to come back.

Chaos is a constant. In March, Iraqis went to the polls in a national election billed as crucial to Iraq’s stability. There are vital decisions to be made here — how to share oil revenue, who controls disputed territories, how to restart the economy and create jobs for the one in three Iraqis who are unemployed.

But there is still no government — the two major political leaders, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite with wide Sunni support, are locked in a death grip over who should be prime minister.

One of the things that’s being lost in the meantime is that essential component of the democracy that the U.S. wanted to instill — a belief that the system works and that risking your life to vote actually matters.

“They’re all just fighting over positions,” said an Iraqi policeman trying to get through a 24-hour shift in sweltering heat on a street where 15 people were gunned down two weeks ago by Al Qaeda in Iraq. The police and army, like most Iraqi citizens, blame the politcal vacuum and lack of a government to deal with it for much of the recent political violence.