Stately in the black turban and flowing robes that marked him as
a senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Ali Abdul Kareem Madani received petitioners
sitting cross-legged on a fine carpet. One after the other, they streamed
in all day to tell him their woes and their needs.
Two factotums, standing on either flank of the soft-spoken dignitary, waved
straw fans to keep him cool in the oppressive heat. The electric ceiling
fan just above his head was motionless, as the power was out again in this
fruit-growing farming hub 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.
"We blame the coalition forces for the lack of electricity," Madani said
solemnly, as if handing down a religious interpretation. "After one year of
occupation, a great country like the United States is not able to set up a
big generator to give this city electricity?"
For many Iraqis, the 13-month-old U.S. occupation has failed to live up to
its billing as an exercise in reconstruction and democracy-building. Like
Madani, they are glad that former president Saddam Hussein has been
overthrown and a new interim government has been installed in Baghdad. But
most of Baqubah's approximately 250,000 people -- and most Iraqis around
the country -- have experienced the U.S. presence here mainly at the wrong
end of a gun. It is that, and not the news from Baghdad's heavily fortified
Green Zone, that informs their views.
"We don't see any civilians," Madani complained. "All we see are soldiers."
A relentless campaign of bombings and ambushes by insurgents determined to
drive out the U.S. occupation has forced the military to continue a battle
that soldiers thought was finished more than a year ago, when President
Bush announced the end of major combat operations. The result has been
persistent clashes, nighttime raids, armored patrols and detentions -- the
blunt instruments of war -- that have led many Iraqis of different
political and religious persuasions to resent the occupation they once
Insurgents have organized into coherent guerrilla groups and forced U.S.
authorities to deal with them as such in Fallujah, 35 miles west of
Baghdad, and around Najaf, 90 miles south of the capital. In countless
other locations, including Baghdad and around Baqubah, they have remained
underground. But in either case, the struggle has pushed U.S. soldiers into
an aggressive military role that is the face of the occupation for most