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Far from media focus: steady democratic progress in Iraq

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Recent international reporting on Iraq has focused on the wave of violence and the spike in insurgent activity. Yet only a few weeks ago, press reports were trumpeting a lull in attacks as the end of the insurgency.

The political process in Iraq - as covered by the few reports that do not focus exclusively on the number of bombs and shootings - appears similarly erratic: elation over the elections rapidly deteriorated into cynicism and despair over parliamentary wrangling. The press has painted a picture of political chaos in which inflexible politicians are squandering the momentum created by brave Iraqi voters.

These wild swings in the security and political environment that are depicted on front pages around the globe are not as evident here on the ground in Baghdad.

In fact, having spent the past two years in Iraq, first as an Army officer and now as the head of the Iraq office of the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, I am struck by the determination and steadiness of Iraqis as they struggle to build a stable, democratic country, and by the continuing, firm commitment of Iraqis to participate in - and manage - that process.

In spite of a constant threat from the various insurgencies over the past year, Iraqi government agencies, political parties, and civil society organizations have gradually expanded their capabilities and activities. They will tell you how much more they could have done had they not been constrained by security threats or - almost as important - the lack of reliable infrastructure, but what they have accomplished already is admirable, as is their unflagging determination in the face of these threats and constraints.

There is a phrase I hear in almost every conversation with Iraqis that captures the mood of this process: hutwa bi hutwa, or "step by step."

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