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SLUG: 7-38290 Iraq/Democracy Lesssons
DATE:>
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=01/27/04

TYPE=DATELINE

TITLE=IRAQ / DEMOCRACY LESSONS

NUMBER=7-38290

BYLINE=SONJA PACE

DATELINE=BAGHDAD

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: In just over five months the U-S civil administration in Iraq is set to hand back sovereignty to the Iraqis. A long process lies ahead to set up a provisional Iraqi authority, draft a constitution and hold national elections for a permanent government. There is already controversy over how that should be done. The task of bringing democracy to a country that has no democratic roots is daunting. V-O-A's Sonja Pace attended a meeting in Baghdad where Iraqi political leaders, tribal chiefs, academics and professionals got together for some basic lessons in democracy and the issues facing their country along that road.

TEXT: A few hundred Iraqis have come to this conference hall in Baghdad. It's an elite, invited audience made up of academics, political figures, party leaders, tribal sheiks and professionals. There are maybe a dozen women in the audience and a few religious figures.

/// ACT 1: ATTIYA SPEECH IN ARABIC FADE UNDER ///

Conference organizer, Ghassan Attiya tells his audience that Iraq has a unique opportunity to start over. He says, while the U-S led coalition may have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein, it's up to Iraqis to build democracy in their country.

Mr. Attiya heads the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, an independent, non-partisan group that organized this conference.

/// BRING UP ATTIYA SPEECH AND FADE ARABIC UNDER ENGLISH TRANSLATION BELOW ///

The way to democracy will be full of difficulties and obstacles. One of the major problems for a country like Iraq is the absence of democratic principles. Democracy without democrats is a difficult process.

///KEEP ATTIYA IN ARABIC UNDER ///

The discussion focuses on issues such as, what sort of government should Iraq have, what sort of constitution does the country need, and how will Iraq, with its recent history, move to democracy.

/// ACT 2 SPEAKER IN ARABIC ESTAB, FADE AND KEEP UNDER///

The audience listens to the panel of speakers talk about various forms of government Iraq could adopt -- a presidential or parliamentary system, a republic or a constitutional monarchy. Then, there's the role of religion and the task of writing a constitution and holding elections.

// OPT // There is already controversy over the transition from U-S occupation to Iraqi sovereignty and over establishing an interim and then permanent Iraqi government. The current plan calls for regional meetings to select an interim authority prior to national elections late next year to choose a permanent government. The country's top Shi'ite cleric objects to that approach and is calling instead for direct elections from the outset. It's hoped the United Nations may step in to resolve the dispute. //END OPT //

Whatever government Iraqis choose, it must take into account the country's diverse ethnic and religious groups.

Mahmoud Othman, an ethnic Kurd, is a member of Iraq's Governing Council. He tells the audience Iraq needs a federal system to guarantee the rights of the Kurdish minority and other population groups.

/// ACT 3: OTHMAN IN ARABIC ESTAB AND FADE ARABIC UNDER ENGLISH TRANSLATION BELOW ///

We are studying the issue of federalism in the Governing Council and we want to discuss it with the Iraqi people. This is an Iraqi proposal, not a Kurdish proposal, as some say. The federalism we're asking for is geographical, not one based on nationalist or sectarian features.

///END TRANSLATION KEEP ARABIC UNDER ///

// OPT // Supporters of a federal system say it would maintain a unified country with a central government, but would also allow for a great deal of self governance for various regions. U-S officials have said such a system would be acceptable as long as it is based on geographic regions, not religious or ethnic divisions. //END OPT //

The Kurds, in particular, are pushing the federalist idea. They have had virtual autonomy under American protection in the north of the country for over a decade and they do not want to give up that freedom. Some Kurds would even like to have an independent state.

Critics of federalism say it would be the first step toward the division of Iraq.

At the conference, talk of federalism does not go down well with everyone.

///ACT 4: SHOUTS AND DISPUTE AMONG AUDIENCE ESTABLISH AND FADE UNDER ///

Sheik Youssef Salman Aldilfi shouts his objections. We want one free Iraq, one homeland, he says. No divisions, no federalism. We want a unified Iraq.

///BRNG UP ACT OF SHOUTING AND FADE UNDER ///

Another member of the audience, Kisra al-Jaff, an ethnic Kurd, counters that saying the Kurdish population wants to live in peace, but will not give up its rights. We're not for dividing Iraq, he shouts.

Mr. al-Jaff tells V-O-A, the outburst just shows how little Iraqis understand about federalism or democracy.

///ACT 5: AL-JAFF IN ARABIC FADE UNDER TRANSLATION BELOW///

The Sheik refuses the principle of federalism because it's related to the Kurdish population. We're not going to give up our rights. But, as Kurds we love this country, we love Iraq. We want to be under the same umbrella.

///END ACT /// // SNEAK IN SOUND BED AND KEEP UNDER PAR BELOW///

Back in the conference room, talk has shifted to the electoral process. Visiting American political science professor, Larry Diamond, cautions his audience that it will take time to organize elections. He says many young democracies have failed because they held elections too soon, without proper preparation. And, Professor Diamond says democracy is all about dialogue, negotiation and compromise.

/// ACT 6: DIAMOND ///

Democracy is in part a means for reconciling differences through compromise. Where different actors have good will toward one another and share the common goal of achieving democracy they can find a way to bridge their differences and agree on a solution.

/// END ACT ///

Dr. Ghassan Mekhi, a Baghad surgeon, likes the idea of such conferences, but he, too, cautions about rushing toward early elections.

///ACT 7: MEKHI ///

We need people to say what they have in their minds. They don't have to keep it inside and get angry. About the election, I think we are being rushed into an election, we need more of these meetings, more discussion with people so that we take the elections slowly and that we get a better result.

/// END ACT ///

His wife, Dr. Neyra al-Aowkati, says such meetings are important, but she says they need to provide more discussion and be more inclusive.

///ACT 8: AOWKATI ///

I found that even after attending this conference I didn't understand all the things which were talked about . and there was no time for discussion. And, it has some negative aspects, one of them is scarcity of representation of women.

///END ACT ///

// OPT // This is indeed a meeting of traditional elites -- and political science professor, Jaber Habib Jaber from Baghdad University says such lessons in democracy must be expanded to the broader population.

///ACT 9: JABER ///

It seems to me you have to talk to the people rather than the elites because with the elites there is no problem. But, at the end of the day the people will decide their destiny rather than the elites.

///END ACT /// //END OPT //

And so, will such conferences make a difference and bring about democracy in Iraq? Dr.Neyra al-Aowkati says it will take time.

// REST OPT // ///ACT 10: ///

I don't think it will be something in the near future. But, I hope. We have hopes for the future, for our children and our grandchildren.

///END ACT ///

This conference is just one of many such meetings taking place in Iraq. The idea is to encourage Iraqis to learn more about, discuss and debate issues and principles of democracy and to better prepare them to chart their own course. (Signed)

NEB/ SP /MAR



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