Since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in December, civilians are continuing their efforts to help the country emerge as a stable, sovereign and democratic partner. The U.S. is “very committed to doing everything we can to support this new Iraqi democracy,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been partnering with Iraqi civilians through its multi-faceted Democracy and Governance Program since 2003. Chris Crowley is Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Middle East Bureau. He explained in a recent interview how USAID has worked to help Iraqis fill the vacuum left by Saddam Hussein’s centralized government. The key, he said, is to encourage the integration of democratic principles on all levels:
“Whether it’s at the grassroots, whether it’s at the provincial level … through elections, or whether it is at the national level where we focus on capacity development in the ministries, [we are] assisting [the Iraqis] to improve their civil service and their capacities to deliver the services that the Iraqi people require.”
While Iraq has had elections on the national and provincial level, the election of local councils has yet to take place. In the meantime, USAID is helping citizens form community action groups that can communicate needs to those elected authorities.
“We were also interested in strengthening the capacity of local groups to provide for themselves,” said Mr. Crowley:
“We would work with the community action groups to help them identify what their priorities were in terms of their local needs and how we might together jointly combine resources in order to … address those needs. So we might provide grants in terms of technical assistance and commodities to a particular community and they would provide labor perhaps some cash and other commodities to achieve this common objective of working toward the betterment of their own communities.”
As the security situation improves in Iraq, USAID also hopes to see the establishment of more local non-governmental organizations that will represent citizens’ interests and assist with ongoing development projects.
For its part, said Mr. Crowley, USAID will continue to support the longer-term development objectives of the government of Iraq and support greater political participation and representation for its citizens.