Iraqi Administrative Councils Taking Hold
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 8, 2003 The Iraqi people can now speak their minds openly, according to Emad Dhia, an Iraqi-born American who's just spent eight weeks in Baghdad.
And, there's someone to listen, according to Larry Di Rita, the Pentagon's new spokesman.
Dhia, Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council director, and Di Rita, acting assistant defense secretary for public affairs, spoke with reporters at a July 7 Pentagon briefing. Di Rita pointed out that like residents in many cities and town's throughout Iraq, Baghdad's citizens now have a forum to discuss important local issues.
Along with hearing citizen's concerns, he said, Baghdad's newly selected 37- member advisory council will "offer advice and suggestions to the coalition and to the city's municipal and ministry administrators as they manage basic services for the residents of the city."
Di Rita stressed that there is much work to do in Iraq, and he warned that there would be continuing violence.
"But make no mistake," he said. "Saddam Hussein's regime is gone and it is not coming back. All of Iraq's main cities and a large number of smaller towns now have councils, administrative councils, and slowly but certainly, Iraqi's continue to take responsibility for their own circumstances in Iraq."
Di Rita then introduced Dhia, noting that the Iraqi-born mechanical engineer left Iraq for the United States in 1982. Several years ago, he said, Dhia founded the U.S.-based Iraqi Forum for Freedom, and most recently, he organized the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council.
Earlier this year," Di Rita said, Dhia "put his life on hold to organize a global network of Iraqi volunteers, who made themselves available to go to Iraq after the conflict and to assist in the reconstruction and the post-hostility period."
The council is made up of about 130 Iraqi volunteers who are now assigned to Iraq's ministries in Baghdad and across the region. They offer technical experience in a wide range of fields from agriculture to health affairs.
"They bring energy, knowledge, skill and, most importantly, the firsthand knowledge, in most cases, of life under Saddam Hussein," Di Rita said.
Returning from eight weeks in Baghdad, Dhia spoke of his impressions, highlighting the Iraqi people's newfound sense of freedom.
"For the first time in 34 years, they feel free," he said. "There's no question about that. You can see it. You can feel it. And you can notice when you talk to the Iraqis, they are speaking their minds. If they don't like something, they go in the streets and demonstrate. That never happened under Saddam's regime."
Other firsts, Dhia noted, include the first election of the University of Baghdad president, formerly assigned by the government, and Iraq's new wealth of about 50 newspapers representing different parties and political views.
"They write with no fear of prosecution or imprisonment," he said.
Dhia went on to talk about the improvements in Iraqi living conditions since the regime was ousted.
"Before liberation," he said, "an average (government) employee's monthly income was about 10,000 dinars, which runs about $5. (After liberation) the first advance that they received to cover their living expenses was $40 for government employees and retirees."
Some military retirees, he added, received about $60 dollars equal to about 80,000 dinars, compared to the 10,000 dinars they used to receive as a monthly salary.
Even with the challenges the coalition authority faces in restoring power in Iraq, Dhia said the Iraqis now have better access to electric power.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the remnants of Saddam's regime, they are shooting our high-tension lines, which run in Iraq for hundreds of miles. They also go and throw a grenade on a switching station or a transformer to sabotage the process of providing electricity to all Iraqis."
With temperatures hitting 130 degrees Fahrenheit, Dhia noted, Iraqi families are frustrated by the sabotage. "And that tells you which side those remnants of Saddam's regime are standing on," he said. "Definitely, it's not the people's side."
Ba'ath Party officials and Saddam's security officers "will stop at nothing to regain their power and their privileges," Dhia added. "We understand that and we're going to fight them back and we're going to defeat them."
The Iraqi people's objective is different from the remnants of Saddam's regime, Dhia stressed.
"The objective of the Iraqi people is to enjoy liberty and start the democratic process," he said. "They are looking forward to a free and just Iraq, and they try to enjoy the new future that the United States is helping to build in Iraq."
More people will cooperate once they are sure Saddam is gone for good, he added. "Once they realize Saddam and his sons are either dead or captured, we will have much more cooperation from (the) Iraqi people in this process."