- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

The American-led movement toward democracy is slowly but surely gaining strength in Iraq. Of course you might never know it from the newspaper and television reports coming out of Baghdad lately. The bloody but sporadic guerrilla attacks by remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime have been capturing all of the headlines here, while the process of democratic governance, still in its infancy, has clearly begun to take root — though rarely gets reported in any depth in the national news media.

What began as sparsely attended, local, municipal council meetings in underground bunkers lit by a single light bulb, which sometimes went out during power outages, is drawing more robust attendance by Iraqis who are relishing their new-found freedoms.

With soldiers and tanks surrounding the building, and helicopters flying overhead, the Interim City Advisory Council opened up for business this week in Baghdad, peopled by brave Iraqis men and women who want to take charge of their country.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator who is running Iraq in the interim, called the meeting “perhaps the most important day for Baghdad since 9 April, when coalition forces liberated you.” It was indeed.

Council members gave Mr. Bremer a wooden gavel and block. They are not only symbols of representative democracy but also “a symbol of law and order that we all crave,” said council chairman Khaled Basher Mirza to a burst of sustained applause.

Notably, the 37-member council has six women, a rare departure in a country so dominated by men. The advisory council is the product of 88 local councils formed throughout the capital in May when attendance at such gatherings was small. Now hundreds of Iraqis are showing up for their meetings despite the threats by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen that they will have their tongues cut out or will be blown to smithereens for cooperating with U.S. forces there.

Another newly elected City Council in the southern Shi’ite city of Najif also began its deliberations this week. About a week ago, the city’s mayor was denounced by Iraqi leaders as a tool of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party and was summarily fired. Democracy can be wonderfully swift and efficient.

But this is just the beginning. These and other advisory councils are the precursors to elected city councils after a nationwide referendum is held on an Iraqi constitution in a few months.

What a moment that will be in the history of a new democratic Iraq. The sight of elected Iraqi councilors, at substantial risk to their lives and their families’ lives, voting to be independent, free and self-governing.

All of this, reminiscent of America’s own revolution against a despotic rule, has not received the news media attention it demands and deserves. The focus has been almost totally on the attacks by Iraqi guerrillas against U.S. troops and the Iraqis people themselves who are working with us to establish a new government to replace Saddam’s hated regime.

Day in and day out a repetitive drumbeat of stories paint a gloomy, pessimistic, hopeless picture of U.S. military forces under constant seige and of Iraqis wondering if they are any better off.

In one bizzare report, a nightly news network showed an Iraqi telling reporters at some length that his country was better off under Saddam Hussein. I mean, really. Was this guy a Saddam loyalist, one of his torturers, a former military official? The story didn’t say.

And why broadcast his views anyway? After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were displaced communist officials who said they were better under the old system, but that ignorant, self-serving view did not represent the majority views of the Soviet people who toppled statues of Lenin and cheered the fall of communism.

Sure the despicable attacks on our soldiers needs to be reported, but so does the story about Iraq struggling to rebuild itself against great odds, threats and intimidation and the progress that has been made thus far.

After all, this is what our brave men and women fought, bled and died for — to topple a terrorist regime so that Iraq would be free and the world could be made a little safer from terrorism.

As a result, we are witnessing the birth of a new democracy in the Middle East, a region that has long been hostile to freedom and popularly elected government. One Iraqi, reveling in the profusion of newspapers in free Baghdad, told a reporter, “I read a different newspaper every day.”

Funny thing about democracy, it’s contagious. The Iranian protesters are now demanding the same freedom the Iraqis have. The democratic reform movement has taken on a new life in Saudi Arabia. Before the year is out the Iraqis will be voting on a new government of their own making.

These are some of the stories that demand much more attention than they are getting. The American people, who sent their best and bravest to free Iraq, deserve no less.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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