Sunday, October 12, 2003


A good it all here.
"I have worked in many parts of the world," said Rassam, "and it is very gratifying to come here and see that we are beginning to get some natural leaders to emerge, men and women, from the real grassroots.

"We had two women from the councils, a Christian and a Muslim who keeps her head covered, go to a [US-sponsored] conference in Hilla the other day and speak about their experiences with incipient democracy. They came back and said to me, 'We want to talk to [the US administrator Paul] Bremer and tell him there must be a quota for women on the constitution-writing committee.'

"To see these two women - one Christian, one veiled - stand up and say, 'You have really helped us come out and have self-confidence and now we don't want to stop here, we want women on the constitution-writing committee' - that is real democracy-building.

"I don't think you can put them back in their place. At least I hope not. These councils are a natural arena for leaders to emerge from the people."

Oh yes, these councils have their crooks and power hogs, some of whom have already been purged by their colleagues.

But even with their warts, they are providing Iraqis a forum for the kind of horizontal conversation - between Sunnis, Shiites, Turkmen, Christians and Kurds - that Saddam never allowed and must happen for any Iraqi democracy to have a solid base.

I also spoke the other day with Nasreen Barwari, Iraq's new (Harvard-trained) Minister of Public Works. She made it very clear to me that she and her colleagues want sovereignty as soon as they are really able to run things.

But to those demanding early sovereignty in Iraq, as a precondition for helping, she said: "If you want me to be sovereign, come and help me reconstruct my country ... Help me get ready quicker."

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