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2/19/04 - IRAQ’S PROGRESS TOWARD DEMOCRACY - 2004-02-20


A year ago, Iraq’s only law was the whim of a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. Thanks to the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqis no longer live in fear. The torture chambers are closed. Of the fifty-five most wanted officials of the former regime, forty-six have been captured or killed. Saddam Hussein is in prison awaiting trial.

Now, says President George W. Bush, the U.S. and its coalition allies are “helping Iraqis make daily progress toward democracy”:

“Today, our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law with a bill of rights. We’re now working with Iraqis in the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty."

The timetable calls for a June 30th transfer of power to an interim government in Iraq. Discussion is underway to determine the best way to do it, whether through caucuses or direct elections.

But even before it is decided how a new national government will be chosen, Iraqis are voting in local elections to choose members of town councils. It is happening in the province of Dhi Qar, more than four-hundred kilometers southeast of Baghdad. For the first time, Iraqis there are voting in free elections for the candidates of their choice.

Every voter has to bring identification, says Naim Aboud, one of the judges running the election. That’s the law. Another rule is one person, one vote. One man voting for members of the town council in Fuhud tried to vote twice: once for himself and once for his wife. “She has the children at home,” he told the judges. He was told to go home, stay with the children, and have his wife come and vote in person.

When the votes were counted in Fuhud, the winner was a former exile, Zaki Hanoun. He fled Iraq in 1999, and returned after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. “This is the first step toward democracy,” he said. “It’s a wonderful example for the other provinces in Iraq.”

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