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Soldier Helps to Form Democracy in Baghdad

By Cpl. Todd Pruden, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 12, 2003 – He inputs data into his hand-held computer organizer to remind himself of important details. He attends every meeting. He has a busy job -- aiding in the establishment of a new government. One could say his work is history in the making.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Capt. Lance Lauchengco, 2nd Brigade Combat Team government development officer, 1st Armored Division, talks with council members at a Karkh District Advisory Council meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 30. Photo by Cpl. Todd Pruden, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Capt. Lance Lauchengco, the government development officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, is an adviser for the neighborhood and district advisory councils within his unit's sector in Baghdad. With the help of the Coalition Provisional Authority and soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the West Point graduate has helped develop a democratic system of government for the people of Iraq.

"Our involvement is to mentor the district councils so that they are more efficient and better able to perform their governing functions," said Lauchengco. "Our function is to provide advice and recommendations."

Lauchengco explained that Baghdad has three levels of municipal government. The first and most localized are the neighborhood advisory councils. Citizens who showed up to the first neighborhood meetings selected the neighborhood council members.

The neighborhood councils are led by a chairperson, and the number of council members varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. The neighborhood councils report to the district councils, as well as a U.S. military company-level commander.

The district advisory council members were selected by each neighborhood council within the district to represent the neighborhood, though the chairperson of a neighborhood council does not serve on the district council. The district councils report to the Baghdad city council, called the Interim City Advisory Council, as well as a U.S. military battalion-level commander.

Members of the city council were selected by the district council and are members of the councils they represent. The number of representatives each district has on the city council is based on population within the district. All city council members also are members of a district and a neighborhood council.

"The power that they have is that (the U.S. military) listens, and we encourage their advice and recommendations," said Lauchengco. "So many people are listening to what the DAC members have to say. That has, in effect, given them significant leadership after the war."

The main issues that have been addressed or are in the process of being worked out are schools, electricity and sewage, Lauchengco said.

"We asked each neighborhood to provide a list of schools they wanted to be renovated," said Lauchengco. "The neighborhoods passed their list up to the district council, and the district council then gave (2nd Brigade Combat Team) the list of the schools they wanted renovated. Using the Commander's Emergency Response Program, we renovated about $200 million worth of schools." But, Lauchengco said, all did not run smoothly to start out as the citizens took their first steps in a democratic society.

"When we first started, the district councils didn't know how to make recommendations, have discussions or reach a consensus," said Lauchengco.

He said a process was created to make the democratic system run more smoothly. The process involves what are called "implementing documents." The neighborhood and district councils make recommendations and proposals and pass them along in writing to the higher council.

"These implementing documents are the vehicle by which each council gets (its) voice heard by the next higher level," said Lauchengco. Committees were formed within the councils to deal with more specific issues, he said.

"One of the early problems of the district councils was that they became a large, disorganized, debating society. To shake that and to be more productive, we created committees so that the discussions and debating could occur in the committees," the captain said.

Although the councils appear to be working out well and are becoming more organized and productive, they still do not have legislative powers. Lauchengco said the idea at this stage is to get the councils ready for self-governance, but the councils still are in a learning phase. The plan is to give complete governing control to the Iraqi people by June.

"It's very enjoyable to see democracy taking hold and to see the enthusiasm that the council members bring to their jobs. They embrace democracy," he said.

(Army Cpl. Todd Pruden is assigned to the 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)


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