LDT: Shorter version of the democracy piece

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LISA SYLVESTER: U.S. military commanders in Iraq are expressing rising concern about the weakness of the Iraqi government. The government of Prime Minister al-Maliki is on the brink of collapse, and many believe Iraq is a failing state. Some U.S. generals are now asking whether democracy is the best way forward for Iraq.

Michael Ware in Baghdad has a special report -- Michael.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lisa, for President Bush, victory in Iraq means a successful democracy and nothing less. But, with the government in Baghdad ailing, the realities on the ground are forcing his diplomats and commanders to soften expectations of just what this democracy might look like, with some generals even warning that, for now, it may not even be the solution at all.

(voice-over): Two years after the euphoria of historic elections, America's plan to bring democracy to Iraq is in crisis. For the first time, exasperated front-line U.S. generals talk openly of non- democratic alternatives.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN BEDNAREK, U.S. ARMY: The democratic institutions is not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future.

WARE: Iraq's institutions are simply not working. It's hard to dispute that Iraq is a failing state; 17 of the 37 Iraqi cabinet ministers either boycott the government or don't attend cabinet meetings. The government is unable to supply regular electricity and at times not even providing running water in the capital.

And thousands of innocents are dying every month. The government failures are forcing the Bush administration to curb its vision for a democratic model for the region, the cornerstone of its rationale for the war.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and commanding General David Petraeus declined to be interviewed, but issued a joint statement to CNN.

In it, they reiterate "Iraq's fundamental democratic framework is in place" and "development of democratic institutions" is being encouraged. But Crocker and Petraeus concede they "are now engaged in pursuing less lofty and ambitious goals than was the case at the outset."

And now in the war's fifth year, democracy no longer features in some U.S. commanders' definition of American victory.

GENERAL BENJAMIN MIXON, U.S. REGION COMMANDER IN IRAQ: I would describe it as leaving an effective government behind that can provide services to its people and security. There needs to be a functioning and effective government that is really a partner with the United States of America and the rest of the world in this fight against these terrorists.

WARE: This two-star general is not perturbed if those goals are reached without democracy.

MIXON: We see that all over the Middle East.

WARE: Democracy, he says, is an option, the Iraqis free to choose it or reject it.

MIXON: But that is the $50,000 question is, what will this government look like? Will it be a democracy? Will it not?

WARE: But Iraqi government officials say, the democratic government could work better if it was actually allowed to run things.

"We don't have sovereignty over our troops. We don't have sovereignty over our provinces. We admit it," says the head of the Iraqi parliament's military oversight committee. "We don't say we have full sovereignty."

For example, while the Iraqi government commands these army troops, it cannot even send them into battle without U.S. agreement.

"We think sovereignty means the ability of a government to be elected and make its own decisions."

He may not be wrong, but a senior U.S. official in Baghdad told CNN, any country with 160,000 foreigners fighting for it sacrifices some sovereignty.

The U.S. has long cautioned a fully-functioning democracy would be slow to emerge. But, with U.S. senators calling for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ouster, some senior U.S. officers suggest the entire Iraqi government must be removed, by constitutional or nonconstitutional means, and they're not sure a democracy need replace it.

Michael Ware, CNN, Baghdad.