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Message: 1
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2004 05:26:35 -0500 (EST)
Subject: A article from:

You have been sent this message from as a courtesy of=

 Personal Message:
 Dear list members,

I met one of these councillors just over a week ago.  Since, I have met a n=
umber of university administrators, elected by their peers.

Both of these meetings have encouraged me, giving me a strong hope that Ira=
qis are now engaged in a mature dialogue about their country's future, and =
will not accept plans that are not in their interests.

 An Iraqi Council With Clout

 By Ariana Eunjung Cha

  BAGHDAD, Feb. 17 -- President Bush made sure to set aside time to see the=
m during his quickie Thanksgiving Day trip to Iraq. Secretary of State Coli=
n L. Powell scheduled a meeting with them when he was last here. So did Com=
merce Secretary Donald L. Evans.

 In a country in search of new leadership, the 37 members of the Baghdad Ci=
ty Council are quickly becoming influential, if still behind-the-scenes, pl=
ayers. They may not have the name recognition of a grand ayatollah or a wea=
lthy exile, but they have one very important thing going for them: They are=
 the closest thing Iraq has to a democratically elected representative body=
 with real clout.

 Selected by their neighbors to serve as liaisons to the U.S.-led Coalition=
 Provisional Authority, they are doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers an=
d other highly educated citizens. Few had been involved in politics before,=
 but now they speak out as much about national issues as local ones.

 With 41/2 months remaining before the scheduled transfer of Iraqi sovereig=
nty from the U.S.-led occupation authority to an interim national governmen=
t, the Baghdad council is a wild card. Occupation officials and Iraq's U.S.=
-appointed Governing Council had agreed on an elaborate plan for creating a=
 transitional assembly through provincial caucuses, saying direct elections=
 were not possible before the June 30 handover date, but most council membe=
rs have since withdrawn support for the plan. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, =
Iraq's most influential religious leader, has said that nothing short of fu=
ll elections could produce a government that was representative of the coun=
try's population.

 The United Nations appears ready to broker a compromise, with elections he=
ld sooner than occupation officials wanted but later than Sistani demanded.=
 The Baghdad City Council still has not said where it stands on this questi=
on, but its members have been quietly surveying constituents and hope to is=
sue a statement that they say will reflect the true views of the people.

 In the seven months since the council was formed, it has become a symbol o=
f hope for democracy in a country that for the most part has known only aut=
horitarian rule and that has been ravaged by violence since the fall Presid=
ent Saddam Hussein. The council's greatest strength and greatest weakness, =
say those who have worked with it, is its inexperience. Many members have o=
nly vague notions about what a campaign or poll or caucus is, but that mean=
s the type of democracy they practice is very academic, very pure.
 Taking Up Challenges
 "They aren't afraid to challenge anyone or anything, and that is a good si=
gn," said Lt. Col. Joe Rice, an Army reservist and former mayor of Glendale=
, Colo., population 5,000, who is advising the City Council here.

 The council has pushed the occupation authority to reconsider its vision f=
or a foreign investment law. It publicly challenged the Governing Council b=
ecause it was appointed, not elected. And it drafted a list of reconstructi=
on projects that served as the foundation for a report presented at a confe=
rence of donors last year in Madrid.

 When the Japanese government recently invited a delegation from Iraq to me=
et with the prime minister, it went to the Baghdad City Council, not the Go=
verning Council. "We decided when we initiated contact with the Iraqi peopl=
e we wanted to meet with the City Council because they were somewhat democr=
atically elected. That was important," said Matsu Bayashi, first secretary =
at the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad.

 The most  telling sign that the City Council had arrived came in November,=
 when the occupation authority unveiled its plan for the formation of an in=
terim Iraqi government that would take power this summer. Under the complic=
ated system, councils in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, or governorates, woul=
d have a key part in the initial stage of the process of picking an interim=
 national legislature. The legislature would choose a prime minister or pre=
sident -- or two or three -- and appoint the rest of the government.

 Although the plan is now in flux, members of the Baghdad City Council are =
poised to play a prominent role in the next government -- perhaps as part o=
f an expanded Governing Council that might rule the country as it prepares =
for elections, and most definitely, they say, as candidates in eventual ele=

 For most Iraqis, choosing a president or prime minister, even indirectly, =
is an alien concept. Most have lived under only two leaders -- Saddam Husse=
in and the American civil administrator, L. Paul Bremer, both of whom were =
forced upon them. So when U.S. troops took to the streets of Baghdad this s=
pring and summer with bullhorns and fliers and invited the people to meetin=
gs where they could elect representatives, many came out of curiosity, if n=
othing else.

 Like many members of the Baghdad council, Ali Haidary said he came to vote=
, not to run. But someone nominated him for a spot on his neighborhood coun=
cil and he won, and he felt it was his responsibility to serve his people.

 "When I came home that day, I told my family I became a member of the loca=
l city hall. My family was amazed. What happened? they asked," recalled Hai=
dary, 47, now City Council chairman. More important, they wondered: What do=
es that mean?

 Haidary is a serious, meticulous man who studied mechanical engineering in=
 college and,  like many other Iraqi men his age,  spent time working for t=
he government and time in the army. He now owns an air-conditioning repair =
company in the middle-class area of Al Adl.

 In the weeks following his election to the Al Adl Neighborhood Council, Ha=
idary was elected to represent Al Adl on the Mansoor District Council, whic=
h in turn voted him onto the Baghdad City Council. In July, he was elected =
vice chairman of the City Council. Since being chosen as chairman in Januar=
y, he has been the top man in a political system that comprises 88 individu=
al councils and more than 750 representatives.

 His fellow members of the Baghdad City Council range in age from twenties =
to late sixties and include sheiks and religious leaders as well as citizen=
s who say they consider themselves secular. Saeb Sideeq Gailani is director=
 general of Medical City, the largest hospital complex in the country; Adna=
n Abdul Sahib Hassan, 53, is a former flight attendant for Iraqi Airways an=
d was an officer in the old Iraqi army; Fatima Hassan Miqdadi, 41, is a tea=
cher who spent almost all of her twenties in prison because she was suspect=
ed of helping the Dawa party, a prominent Islamic political group that oppo=
sed Hussein's Baathists.

 The council got off to a rocky start when it first met on July 7. Members =
could barely agree on how to conduct the meetings, not to mention what issu=
es they should address.

 In the beginning, the council members focused on issues in their neighborh=
oods. Haidary, for instance, helped reopen a government shopping center tha=
t provided more than 200 jobs. He also got funding to repair 20 of the 22 s=
chools in his area that had not been scheduled for reconstruction. The $480=
,000 for the schools came from U.S. military commanders, humanitarian group=
s and the Japanese Embassy.

 "I believe the biggest crime Saddam committed was neglecting education," H=
aidary said. "The Iraqi student in the past was one of the most intellectua=
l, the most clever. But because of Saddam, our students have now reached th=
e lowest level."
 A Growing Visibility
 The council members' successes and their cooperation with the occupation a=
uthority,  have made them targets for insurgents. Haidary's Al Adl council =
offices have been attacked several times, and one of his fellow council mem=
bers was shot and killed. Two other members of the neighborhood councils in=
 Baghdad have died in ambushes. In December, a bomb went off in front of on=
e City Council member's house. Hebrew language professor Ali Hussein Amiri'=
s 20-year-old son had walked out the door and found a pen on the steps. Whe=
n he picked it up, it blew his hand off.

 As the months have passed, the council has sought to expand its role. Memb=
ers have challenged occupation officials on a number of issues, asking for =
control of the city budget and demanding authority to inspect the progress =
of reconstruction projects.

 "We shouldn't have to go to CPA for everything we do," Nashat Husseini arg=
ued at one meeting, using the initials of the Coalition Provisional Authori=
ty. "We should be able to do it ourselves." He said too many Iraqis -- othe=
r than themselves -- are as afraid of being punished by the Americans for c=
hallenging authority as they were of Hussein.

 In November and December, the United States, Japan and Turkey separately i=
nvited the Baghdad City Council to visit.

 Meanwhile, the Iraqi Governing Council, which had all but ignored the Bagh=
dad City Council some months ago, recently began sending representatives to=
 its weekly meetings. Senior occupation officials, including those in charg=
e of electricity and reconstruction contracting, have also come to seek the=
 representatives' advice.

 The biggest question for the City Council remains what members think about=
 how a sovereign Iraq should be created. The committee assigned to look at =
the issue remains divided over a caucus system or direct elections.

 Council member Miqdadi said that she supports Sistani's call for direct el=
ections and that people should think of him not as a religious figure but a=
s a scholar. "He studied international relations and he knows about politic=
s. We believe very much that his thoughts are with the times," she said.

 Basim Salih Yaaqubi, 39, a financier who serves on the council, disagrees.=
 Direct elections, he says, are not practical at this time for many reasons=
, including the fact that the political system is still developing and that=
 security is so poor that there is a danger polling places would be attacke=

 But both quickly said that if the council's survey shows the public's opin=
ion differs from theirs, they will support the people. "In democracy, that =
is how things should work," Yaaqubi said, as if quoting from a textbook. "Y=
ou go with the majority."

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