My diary in Iraq: Day TwoLeafleting village by village to announce the forthcoming elections [Archives:2004/729/Opinion]

April 15 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 second of a four-part serialisation of their diary in Yemen Times.

The days begins with a meeting with the team of civilian workers of the Research Triangle Institute, which operates in Nassiriya under the direct control of Barbara Contini, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority for the region. The team leader is another woman, the courageous and determined Belgian, Caroline Roufosse. Caroline and her team talk to us about the question of security, linked to common crime, terrorism and the funding of terrorism. One of the most serious problems is the kidnapping of children for the purpose of extortion, mostly to finance terrorist organisations. The general elections, planned to be held by January 2005, will be crucial. Caroline Roufosse stresses the importance of the painstaking work in the small towns and villages, which has allowed, and will allow, the election of local representatives. It may well be them, the local representatives gathered together in an assembly, who will appoint the new government.
The legitimacy and authority of political representatives: this must be the starting point to deal with unemployment. In a country in which there are provinces like Nassiriya where 60% of the population are uneducated, the citizens are involved by direct contact – as the Italians do by handing out leaflets village by village – or via TV and radio, as the Japanese do. The Japanese government has acquired TV slots on the two most important Arab-language satellite channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyya, to explain to the Iraqis the purpose of the Japanese presence, especially after the offer of a further $260 million in humanitarian aid.
We depart for Baghdad from Kuwait City. We travel in a British Royal Air Force plane with government officials, NGO technicians and experts, and a platoon of rather bewildered Malayan soldiers. We fly over Iraq without any hitches, and are welcomed on our arrival in Baghdad by the Italian Ambassador Gianludovico de Martino. On the drive from the airport we come across marines jogging with machine-guns and the remains of Saddam's monumental buildings. At the checkpoint, the guard looks at our documents and quips: “Smile, guys, you're in Baghdad”. We smile.
The first meeting in Baghdad is with Paul Bremer, who has put a sign on his desk: “Success has a thousand fathers”. Bremer lists the figures of the achievements since the fall of Saddam: over 200 newspapers and 180 political parties set up, and above all a constitution that is “revolutionary for the Muslim world, from Casablanca to Kuala Lumpur”. From an economic point of view, unemployment has fallen by 60% compared to the pre-war situation, per capita income has increased by 33% and the gross domestic product by 60%: the real problem, with the injection of $18 billion in the next 15 months, will not be growth, but inflation.
Great stress is placed on the development of democracy, for which over $500 million have been set aside. On the other hand Bremer does not hide from the difficulties: it will be extremely difficult not only to manage the process of transition but also to create the necessary checks and balances in the future institutional framework. Bremer hopes for greater involvement from the international community and believes that a new United Nations resolution would be useful, especially as a political acknowledgement of the institutional and electoral deadlines set out in the provisional constitution. This is precisely what Ayatollah Al-Sistani turns down bluntly later in the day in a fiery statement: “If the United Nations serves to legitimise this constitution, it would do better not to come.”