By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/19/2004 7:43:32 PM ET 2004-03-20T00:43:32

The challenge for President Bush: how to create democracy out of chaos.

In the streets of Baghdad on Friday, America seemed to be losing the battle for hearts and minds. Even rival Shiites and Sunni Muslims united to protest the United States.  “We want the immediate removal of all the occupation power,” shouted one protester.

The U.S. agenda:

But before U.S. administrator Paul Bremer can leave at the end of June, the United States and Iraqis have to decide who takes over.

On Friday in Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said they still don’t know. “We have not yet resolved with the Iraqis or the governing council or with the U.N its shape,” Powell said.

The risk is in a power vacuum.  Iraq could dissolve into civil war among three religious groups:

“We have to make sure that we have a political system in which nobody feels disenfranchised, nobody feels left out,” said Rend Rahim, the Iraqi representative to the United States.

But this week’s bombings leave no doubt that Iraq is still a war zone.

Even if the United States hands over political power, American soldiers will have to stay for years.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is just back from Baghdad. “They’re going to need us. The military is going to have to be there,” he said.

Still, some analysts say today’s turmoil is an understandable, if violent, transition.  “I think it is quite possible, likely even, that what we are seeing now is just a bump on the road towards the ultimate destination of Iraqi democracy,” said foreign policy analyst Max Boot.

But U.S. officials are worried about the short term: creating a democracy in the face of continued violence.

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