An Iraqi wonders about US politics

Yesterday, as I was touring Iraqi polling stations on a government bus for journalists and other observers, I found myself straining to remember as much as I could about the US political system.

It wasn't that an Iraqi referendum bears much resemblance to American politics – far from it. But my interpreter, an Iraqi government employee who had been assigned to help me cover a referendum on the rule of President Saddam Hussein, was relentless in his questions about things American.

"Excuse me, Mr. Cameron," he would begin, adding the honorific as a gesture of politeness. He first asked my thoughts on Iraq's English-language daily and we talked about the relationship between journalism and propaganda.

I pointed out, as gently as I could, that the newspaper's lead story, headlined "President Hussein chairs Cabinet meeting," was pretty ho-hum. He took it well.

Later he waxed political. "The House of Representatives, the Senate, the Congress – can you tell me the relationship between these three things?" he inquired. I did my best to explain how representatives and senators are elected and what they do.

Finally we discussed the president's role in conducting foreign policy, how America declares war, and the political machinations in Washington over Iraq. "I think there will be war," he said.

Iraqis are ambivalent about America. Many say they have nothing against Americans, and then bluntly state that they hate the US government. They resent the US for the deprivations imposed by a US-led trade embargo and for several months of open hostility.

Despite more than a decade of trade sanctions, American consumer goods are common. Many Iraqis spend their evenings watching American movies on television, smoking American cigarettes, and drinking a soft drink called Pepsi.

Curiosity about America is a global phenomenon. Here the questions are more intense, more sophisticated. In Iraq, the decisions taken in Washington may bring war.

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