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2/22/04 - STEPS TOWARD DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ - 2004-02-23

Iraqis are learning about democracy. Throughout the country, says Ala Talabani, of the group “Women for a Free Iraq,” democratic elections are being held:

“We have local government everywhere. In the north part of Iraq, they have the Kurdish original government that was established, created thirteen years ago. And the other provinces of the newly liberated area in the south part of Iraq, in the south central as well, there are the councils, the city councils which have been elected by people.”

An election was held recently in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Voters selected ten city council members from a list of thirty-four candidates. “This was our first taste of democracy, and I am so excited because I didn’t expect people to turn up in such numbers,” Ibrahim Jabar Hassan, a teacher in Nasiriyah, told The Wall Street Journal newspaper. Mr. Hassan said, “I hope after this we’ll be able to elect a national government and finally have security.”

Sovereignty will return to Iraq on June 30th. Paul Bremer, the Coalition Provisional Authority’s administrator, says that, “Changes in the mechanism for forming an interim government are possible, but the date holds”:

“The coalition’s goal has always been an Iraq which is free and democratic, peaceful and prosperous, sovereign and united."

Mr. Bremer says that local elections held in Nasiriyah and elsewhere are “the seedbeds of participatory democracy”:

“Democracy is more than just elections. Democracy rests on pluralism and the balance of power at multiple levels. That is why the United States is spending almost half a billion dollars to promote civil society in Iraq. These programs are working. Student councils, women’s groups, parent-teachers associations have been created in thousands of places. Professional organizations of physicians and lawyers and engineers have come into being all over the country.” In Iraq, as everywhere, such groups are essential elements of civil society. And the Provisional Coalition Authority is working with the Iraqi people to build these institutions.