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American Forces Press Service

Outreach Programs Point Iraqis Toward Road To Democracy

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2004 - Education and understanding are what it'll take to establish democracy across an Iraqi society largely operated by centuries-old insular tribal customs and mores, a U.S. military official said in Baghdad today.

Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. State Department public outreach policy in Iraq seeks "to engage all Iraqis by educating them to the opportunities and responsibilities of the new democratic era," explained Army Lt. Col. Alan King, a CPA public outreach official.

Political organization and participation in the democratic process -- and not violence -- "are the best ways to ensure that the new Iraq is based on a constitutional system designed to protect the rights of all Iraqis, whatever their class, gender, faith, or ethnicity."

Iraq's 24 million people, noted King, can be grouped into three segments: technocrat and intellectual, tribal, and religious.

Iraq's tribal social structure, King pointed out, "has existed for millennia." U.S.-coalition officials, therefore, want to engage local tribal sheiks (leaders), he continued, "to gain their support for a stable and democratic Iraq that will be built for the future."

Through discussions with more than 2,700 influential tribal sheiks and elders, "we can and have identified trusted members of the community to assist in rebuilding governmental and security infrastructures" across Iraq, King noted.

He said U.S.-coalition officials and tribal leaders have instituted "a proportional representation of families" in re-establishing regional Iraqi political organization.

The result, King explained, is a new social-political structure that replaces an old nepotism system. That structure had provided a political voice to only the strongest tribes and divided the world into two groups: families and strangers.

Iraq's tribal- and family-dependent culture was developed over the centuries as a social survival mechanism, King explained, noting the country has experienced Persian, Greek, Mongol, Ottoman and British invasions.

"The people of Iraq have survived past occupations through the tight bonds of their families and tribes and their world-class civilization of the past," King pointed out. Iraqis, he added, have depended on their tribal and clan associations "for everything from security to employment."

And, in light of their history it's not surprising that many Iraqis believe that nepotism "is not a civic problem, but a moral duty," King noted.

Yet, things are changing, he said. For example, King noted that "over a dozen" wanted persons - as well as a suspected terrorist cell leader - were taken into custody after Iraqi sheiks were asked to use their influence in convincing fugitives to surrender.

"These successes promote better understanding and cooperation among the Iraqis and the coalition," King concluded.

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