A conference of more than 1,100 Iraqis chosen to take the country a crucial step further toward constitutional democracy convened in Baghdad on Sunday under siege-like conditions, only to be thrown into disorder by delegates staging angry protests against the American-led military operation in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

After an opening speech by Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, delegates leapt out of their seats demanding the conference be suspended. One Shiite delegate stormed the stage before being forced back, shouting, “We demand that military operations in Najaf stop immediately!”~ The New York Times , August 15, 2004

The last few days have seen rather dramatic developments. Far worse, in one sense, than the threatened secession of southern governorates is the near-failure of this national conference almost before it has begun. Not only have operations in Najaf further radicalised political opinion in southern Iraq among the more extreme elements there, but a number of presumably relatively more moderate delegates at this conference want nothing to do with the process so long as military operations continue. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the way in which the unnecessary and imprudent use of force in Najaf at this time is sabotaging the political process, such as it is, than these recent developments in Baghdad. I would not have given Iraqi “democracy” more than two cents for its chances before now. Now I would not even given it that much.