This weeks appointment of an Iraqi governing council is a big step in strengthening co-operation between Iraqis and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).
For nation building to succeed, the CPA must move quickly to expand the involvement of Iraqis in all areas of civilian administration. Failure to do so will fuel fears of occupation, intensify resentment and propel the current spiral of deadly violence.
Since his arrival as US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer has emphasised Iraqi participation in the countrys governance, security and reconstruction. He can continue to build momentum by making sure Iraqis have the lead role in drafting the countrys constitution. A visible, popular process is needed to ensure that Iraqs constitution-making is broadly representative and participatory.
To this end, the CPA should encourage Iraqis to organise a national constitutional convention with delegations from all 18 provinces. Equivalent to Afghanistans loya jirga, the convention would serve as a forum for airing views. It would also select a constitutional commission of Iraqi experts whose job would be to draft a constitution.
Regional consultations could then be organised with local tribal, political and religious leaders. Town hall meetings could also be convened before the constitution is ratified at a big Baghdad conference.
At the same time, Iraqi governance could be advanced at the local level. Several city councils have so far been established. Some have functioned better than others.Involving local leaders in the creation of interim local governments is an important step in Iraqs democratisation.
While it is premature to consider national elections until the constitution is adopted, it is not too soon to begin planning local ones. The first step would be to conduct a census using the World Food Programme registry as a starting-point. The technical challenges would be daunting. But it is worth doing. Census-taking would signal to Iraqis that they are stakeholders in the countrys democratic development. Moreover, it affirms that real steps are being taken to establish representative rule. The United Nations has considerable experience with local elections and could play a useful role.
Progress towards democracy will be limited until conditions of pervasive insecurity are tackled. Priority should be placed on establishing an Iraqi police force. Here too the UN could assist. Although the occupying powers have ultimate responsibility for Iraqs security, donor countries can help by contributing personnel to a constabulary force supervised by the CPA. As envisaged, Iraq would be divided into geographic zones with different countries assigning police to specific districts. While their presence would have an immediate impact, the approach would emphasise sustainable security.
Working with local leaders, donor countries would train, equip and pay for setting up local police forces. This decentralised approach could be linked to plans for a Baghdad-based police academy where the CPA would train up to 60,000 police.
Improving security also requires dealing with the causes of violence. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were displaced by Saddam Husseins campaigns of persecution. In cities such as Kirkuk, Iraqis have been returning to their homes only to find them occupied or destroyed.
Engaging Iraqis in managing the orderly return of refugees is essential. Property claims commissions should be established. Staffed by Iraqis, they would co-ordinate the return of displaced persons to their homes and work with security forces to ensure that reintegration occurs without harassment, intimidation or discrimination on account of ethnic origin.
In addition to claims and compensation, the commissions could undertake community-building activities among ethnic and religious groups. Reintegration funds would be supervised by international non-governmental organisations to support activities that lessen communal tension. While fulfilling the basic needs of Iraqis, reintegration funds would have the benefit of promoting local leadership and enhancing inter-ethnic relations.
After living for years under a regime that forbade any exercise of personal responsibility, Iraqis find it too easy to blame the occupying powers for their problems. The coalition can avoid becoming the scapegoat by giving them a central role in postwar activities. UN agencies and donor countries can also share the burden by encouraging Iraqis to take responsibility for their countrys future.
The writer is deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations
LOAD-DATE: July 9, 2003