My diary in Iraq: Day ThreeIn Baghdad, in the (former) house of Big Brother [Archives:2004/730/Opinion]

April 19 2004

By Emma Bomino
For the Yemen Times

At the intergovernmental conference in Sana'a, Yemen, organised in January of this year by No Peace Without Justice, Iraqi ministers invited Emma Bonino, Radical Party Member of the European Parliament and member of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, to Baghdad. A delegation of Radical MEPs – Bonino herself, Marco Cappato and Gianfranco Dell'Alba – accepted their invitation. This is the third of a four-part serialisation of their diary in Yemen Times.

We spend the night in Baghdad in the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority: Saddam's imposing Republican Palace, or rather the gardens of the building now used as a camp. Our accommodation is a prefabricated block surrounded by a wall of sandbags. “Every now and then mortars are fired, so if they hit one block the others are protected”: with these words Colonel Bloise, the Italian Co-ordinating Officer, bids us goodnight.
We begin the following day with a meeting at the side of Saddam's luxurious pool with some of the Italian officials working for the Coalition and the Iraqi Ministries. Each of them gives us an enthusiastic and detailed account of their jobs in the various sectors, an activity which is too often overshadowed by the more sensational tragic events.
In the health sector, the job is to provide the Iraqis, by as early as April, with a system capable of functioning thanks to the high quality of local medical staff, although it is proving difficult to find enough nurses. In the IT sector, the outlook is bleak, with huge problems of training and practically no internet facilities. As for industry and infrastructure, despite the enormity of the job to be done it has to be acknowledged that the Iraqis have shown remarkable ability in keeping the basic infrastructures working. There has been progress in the creation of a prison system that respects the fundamental rights; in the protection of the immense archaeological heritage, now pillaged or abandoned; in the re-organisation of the Navy, also to include coast-guard duties; in the supply of water; in the integrated transport system; and in the process of the liberalisation of the economic and financial system in a county that in recent years, they tell us, has lived as if in “the house of Big Brother”.
From 1 July the responsibility for all this will lie in the hands of the transitory government. Our day continues with a meeting with some of the key figures in the new Iraqi politics: Adnan Pachachi, the leading exponent of the more liberal wing of the diaspora; the Turkoman representative Singol Chabook; Rajaa Khuzai, who has fought more than anyone else for women's rights in the Provisional Constitution; and Al-Rubei, who is very close to Ayatollah Al-Sistani.
There are differences and worries about the method of composition of the future government after the hand-over of power. Among the various options is the idea of extending the present Governing Council – which all our interlocutors are members of – to make it more representative, or to convene a National Conference to appoint the members of government. In any case decisions will have to be made very quickly, with the help of the arrival next week of the United Nations representative Lakhtar Brahimi.
The role of the UN is considered fundamental for the completion of the constituent phase and the election of a parliament with full powers by the end of 2005. But opinions already differ on the legitimisation of the Provisional Constitution by the UN: some consider it to be a starting point to work on, while others – like the followers of Al-Sistani – are completely against it, viewing it as an American imposition. Together with the rediscovery of democracy – “I am happy when citizens criticise the government of which I am a member,” says Pachachi – there is extreme uncertainty, only 100 days before 30 June, on the method of composition of the legitimate government of the new Iraq.
It is essential, therefore, that the hand-over is not perceived as the beginning of international disengagement, but as a moment of more intense co-operation on the part of the international community. There are, however, forces working for a different scenario, one which we must do everything in our power to ward off.
Next we meet the Minister of Justice, Al-Shibli, in his office, with its magnificent view over the Tigris. He tells us of the difficulties of re-establishing a judicial system, which was controlled for too long by the Ba'ath party, and says he is extremely interested in the program for the training of new judges in which the Radical association No Peace Without Justice is involved. We ask him about the trial of Saddam and the other leading members of the regime, and he replies that it should be held before an Iraqi court, once the constitutional rules have been defined. On the subject of the death penalty he confirms that the Provisional Authority has decreed a moratorium. Let's hope it becomes a permanent ban.