Iraqi-Style Glasnost, Publicity And Multi-Party System

Most foreign correspondents working in Iraq live at the local Palestine hotel. The square in front of this hotel is filled with people each day since morning. As a matter of fact, this square resembles a Baghdad version of London's Hyde Park. Manifestations and rallies are being staged here virtually every day, with people debating the current Iraqi situation and the country's future rather hotly. The people of Iraq, who were unable to freely contact foreigners only 10 days ago, are now mobbing US soldiers around the hotel, as well as journalists coming out of the hotel building.

You represent the Russian mass media; we are asking you to come with us and to make sure that our university was ransacked by robbers with US connivance, Ahmed Halaf, a post-graduate student at the Baghdad technical university, told RIA Novosti. US soldiers prevented students, who wanted to protect the university, from entering the university building, Halaf noted. At the same time, they allowed looters to go inside. They deliberately allowed such people to ransack the university, its labs and unique library, Halaf stressed. We are asking Western journalists to report on this disaster; but they refuse to do so, Halaf said in conclusion.

The United States wants to hurl Iraq back into the Stone Age and to downgrade its people to the level of physiological needs, Halaf's friend Ayad Obeid added.

A group of young people rallied on the other side of the square, trying to thank a US sentry for liberating them from tyranny in broken English. They were also quite eager to shake his hand or to hug him; but the Iraqi crowd was separated from him by barbed wire. About 40 people stood 20 meters from them, chanting: "Yankee, Go Home! We Want Saddam Back!" In their opinion, the United States brought lawlessness and chaos, rather than freedom. A marble pedestal on which Saddam Hussein's bronze statue stood, before it was torn down in the middle of last week, towered behind them. Moreover, this crowd kept saying that law and order, rather than chaos, ruled supreme under Saddam.

A young man stood near that pedestal, saying emotionally that the people of Iraq needed freedom, law and order, rather than Saddam.

Several young people carrying freshly-printed portraits of Masud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, appeared in the crowd. They handed out those portraits to everyone present. One young man shoved a portrait into the window of a parked car. "Who is this guy?" an elderly Iraqi, who was sitting inside the car, asked suspiciously. "Barzani," the boy replied. "I don't need another Saddam," the driver sniffed scornfully, brushing the portrait aside. Meanwhile one more Kurd pasted Barzani's portraits all over the aforesaid pedestal of Saddam's statue. However, those portraits were torn off less than 30 minutes later.

Iraq knew nothing about pluralism and freedom of speech only a short while ago. People, who preached such democratic values, used to risk their lives under Saddam. Iraq was ruled by only one party, i.e. the Baath party, for over 25 consecutive years. 65 political parties emerged seven days later, after Saddam's regime came tumbling down. Such parties continue to mushroom all the time here.

The people of Baghdad are quite surprised to see the names of such new parties being written on the walls of buildings, as well as those on streamers. They keep reading their names with great interest. However, most parties are unknown to everyone. An elderly Iraqi teacher Ali Abed Rashid comes to the square in front of the Palestine hotel every morning, waiting for some people to gather and delivering political speeches. In his speeches, Rashid exhorts the audience to maintain political and inter-confessional unity, also telling those present to build a free and democratic Iraq. Rashid heads the Popular Party, whose new members are also registered on the square.

Nor do the people of Iraq know anything about those specific parties, which had their headquarters in Washington, London and some other foreign capitals not so long ago. Such parties have now started opening their offices in Baghdad, that is, at vacant Baath party district committees or empty government buildings. For example, the Iraqi National Congress, which is headed by Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, has established its office at the As-Saura newspaper's editorial office.

Meanwhile some parties didn't even have to find new premises for themselves. Among other things, the building, which housed the Union of Iraqi Students and Young People, now accommodates the Party of Liberal Democrats. (That Union was headed by Saddam's elder son Uday - Ed.) The Party of Liberal Democrats is headed by Union leaders, i.e. Baath functionaries.

The fledging Iraqi democracy still has a long way to go. Those emergent political parties will have to win the trust of Iraqi citizens and to become influential enough. However, it will take a lot of time to accomplish this objective.

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