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4/18/03 - A DEMOCRATIC FUTURE FOR IRAQ - 2003-04-18

On April 15th, the first in a series of meetings was held in Iraq between coalition officials and Iraqi exile groups, opposition figures, and tribal and religious leaders. The purpose of these meetings is to create an interim authority to govern Iraq until free elections can be held. As U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, the task is to map out Iraq's future -- a future free of tyranny, free of dictators, based on democracy: ) "These meetings will help set in motion a process that will lead to an Iraqi government that does not threaten its neighbors or the world with weapons of mass destruction, that does not support terrorist networks, that guarantees the rights of religious and ethnic groups, that permits political freedom, individual liberty, and rule of law to prevail, so that no Iraqi is forced to live in terror or fear."

As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, building a new Iraqi government is the right and the responsibility of the Iraqi people. But, he said, a free society is about more than elections.

"Free nations across the world have different institutions that reflect their unique cultures and their traditions. What they share in common are certain principles that under-gird those institutions: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, individual rights, equal justice under law, checks and balances, protecting minorities against the tyranny of a majority and, ultimately, a government that is chosen by, and answers to the people."

The United States, as President George W. Bush said, will not impose a government on Iraq. But the U.S. is committed, in President Bush's words, to helping the Iraqi people "build a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people." The creation of an interim authority in Iraq will be an important step in that process.