Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Iraq's South, Democracy Buds ; US Administrator Paul Bremer Wants to Repeat the 'Muthanna Model' around the Rest of Country

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Iraq's South, Democracy Buds ; US Administrator Paul Bremer Wants to Repeat the 'Muthanna Model' around the Rest of Country

Article excerpt

Beneath a brilliant noon sun, they sit staring at the foreigner who is introducing democracy - American-style.

Here in their hardscrabble village, set in a flat expanse of marsh, palm trees, and sand, the tribal representatives, clad in brown cloaks and checkered head scarves, sit beside bearded men in cotton slacks and leather jackets. A small group of women, hidden by their billowing black chadors, listens intently as children run around their feet.

"The purpose of today's gathering is to select a council for the this township," Jim Soriano, the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) coordinator for the province of Muthanna, tells them. "It is a living symbol of Iraq's democratic transformation."

With a provincial council and four city councils already formed in the province of Muthanna, this is the first of seven town council selections to be held over the next three weeks. It is an anxious moment for the CPA representatives and the team from the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a US-based nonprofit, who organized the selection process. They are aware that CPA headquarters in Baghdad will be closely watching the selection process, the first practical demonstration of the new democracy being ushered into the rural heartland of Iraq.

While the weekend capture of Saddam Hussein has received worldwide attention, it is here in Muthanna that a true success story is in the making.

Muthanna is the second-largest province in Iraq and almost certainly the poorest. Its predominantly Shiite inhabitants were brutally repressed under Mr. Hussein's regime, its infrastructure underfunded, its economy based on low-scale agriculture.

During the war to oust Hussein, American troops were warmly welcomed by the Shiite population when they advanced into Samawa, Muthanna's capital. The province remains calm, with no attacks against coalition troops and almost no support for the mainly Sunni guerrillas operating further north.

"We have a seven-month timetable and we would like to keep them friendly until we turn off the lights and go home," says one foreign official, referring to July 1, when the US has said it will turn the country over to Iraqi control.

The peaceful atmosphere has helped the coalition press ahead with establishing local administrations, outstripping other provinces and winning praise from the CPA in Baghdad.

The process began simply, by putting up posters in Rumaytha, a small town on the northern edge of the province, and asking for the names of suitable candidates for a town council. The list was to be vetted by an eight-man council that had been appointed in April by the occupying American troops.

A list of 100 names was compiled and then checked and rechecked to ensure no one significant had been omitted. The candidates met in the town hall to vote on who would sit on the council. …

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