Up from the rubble of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, the first
tentative seedlings of democracy are poking their heads, as
political parties of every shape and form race to put down roots in
the new Iraq.
Commandeering abandoned buildings, putting up flags and banners
to announce their presence, and signing up new members, communists,
monarchists, Islamists, liberal democrats, and army generals are
taking advantage of freedoms that their country has not known for
Some of that freedom is the fruit of the anarchy that still
prevails in Iraq, with no functioning government, few public
services, and wide uncertainty among ordinary citizens about what
their future holds.
The disorder extends to the nascent democracy.
Jassem Hamed has set up a branch office of the US-backed Iraqi
National Congress in the cramped reception area of a former Baghdad
passport office that was burned, looted, and trashed. While his
colleagues make tea in the courtyard on a fire fueled by passport
records, he explains that he joined the party a week ago, and was
given his responsibility because a cousin works as a bodyguard to
INC leader Ahmed Chalabi.
He is unclear exactly what his party stands for. "They say the
INC will publish a booklet explaining what it is about, and when I
read it, if I am convinced, I will stay," he says. "If not, I will
leave. For the moment, it is just about democracy."
Across town, Communist Party Central Committee member Adel Khaled
voices a more politically astute viewpoint.Recently emerged from
five years of underground organizing, he is clearly delighted by the
bustle of activity in his makeshift headquarters as the committed
and the curious elbow their way to a table piled with clenched fist
posters and copies of the party newspaper.
"If people feel secure, if they are allowed to express how they
feel, they will come to us," he says confidently. "The party has
existed for and from the people so they have been aware of us for a
Iraq does not yet have the interim government that US officials
say is planned, and it is not even clear who will be appointed to
it, aside from two leading Kurdish parties and the INC.
But already the first flush of democratic excitement is
unsettling some participants.
"It is normal ... that people are enthusiastic, because they can
express their ideas," says Khasro Jaaf, head of the Baghdad office
of the Kurdish Democratic Party. "But there is a hairsbreadth of
difference between democracy and the jungle. The longer the
Americans stay, the safer it will be for each party to present its
Others are encouraged by the "anything goes" mood. "There are
parties opening up that we have never heard of," says Zaab Sethna,
spokesman for the INC. "In general, we think it is a very good
thing, a very good sign of the beginnings of civil society."
Mr. Jaaf, an architect with a mane of gray hair and a flamboyant
manner, has chosen a Baghdad headquarters for his party after his
own style: the marbled mansion once occupied by Saddam Hussein's
personal team of palace architects.
Other parties seem to have chosen and occupied other abandoned
public buildings with which they feel some affinity: The Communist
Party has installed itself in an apartment block that once housed
Soviet advisers, and draped it with red banners proclaiming the
party slogan - "A free country and a happy people."
The Islamist Dawa party has set up in the Sindbad youth center -
its overgrown garden pitted with sandbagged foxholes - and hung a
handpainted banner from the fence declaring that "The will of Allah
The INC has established its temporary headquarters in the Iraqi
Hunting Club, once a favorite haunt of Saddam's elder son Uday in
the capital's posh Mansour district. …