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1/21/04 - FREEDOM IN IRAQ - 2004-01-22

Iraqis are now free to voice their opinions without fear of being arrested and murdered by a tyrannical regime. And Iraqis are speaking their minds. This month, thousands of Iraqis joined a peaceful rally in the southern city of Basra where they showed their support for Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a Shia cleric and advocate for direct national elections.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, many women demonstrated against proposals to apply Muslim religious laws to Iraqis in certain civil matters. They pointed out that this would deny some rights to women that they have enjoyed for many decades.

“One of the best things about Iraq,” says U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, “is to say that people are demonstrating in a way they could never do ever before, or at least for decades in their history”:

“They are not being shot down in the streets and summarily taken off in the middle of the night for organizing demonstrations. There are people from all the ethnic groups demonstrating. Remember, ten or twelve years ago, when some of the Shia turned out, they were brutally suppressed. So the fact that there are demonstrations in Iraq is fundamentally a good thing.”

A recent poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein. But, says Daniel Senor, senior coalition adviser, the survey also points out that Iraqis are not necessarily in favor of the occupation:

“Nobody likes to be occupied. But the third theme we hear over and over is that they do not want us to leave.... Those last two are inherently contradictory. But it’s something we’ve seen consistently to this point. And if you ask Iraqis, who may be frustrated from time to time, if the solution is for us to leave, they’ll say absolutely not. They want the coalition here to finish the mission.”

As Haidar Ghazy, a clothing store owner in Karada, told The New York Times newspaper, “Despite everything, it's better than before. Of course we're optimistic. We have a saying: ‘If you are optimistic, you'll find good things.’”