Monday, December 01, 2003

Members of the Iraqi Reconstruction Development Council - a group of Iraqi-Americans hired by the Defense Department to help rebuild Iraq - are planning an anti-terrorism demonstration for this Friday, Dec. 5.

Since the coalition says more and more Iraqis are convinced terrorists are targeting them and not just the US military, it'll be interesting to see if the protest draws big crowds.

While some IRDC members have complained about being sidelined by the coalition and by Iraq's Governing Council, my translator thinks the IRDC is a more credible and more effective body than the US-appointed council.

"They are working as civilians," said Ali Abbass, a 21-year-old dentistry student. "We know they are also appointed by the Americans, but they are simple people, they don't travel with big security teams and they move among the Iraqis. They speak the language, they are depending on the tribes for help and to communicate. They have been abroad and they are educated, but they are not working with the coalition's name. And their jobs and families are in the US so they will go home."

And yet, Ali thinks the most high-profile project they're working on at the moment is terribly misdirected.

The demonstration - which is supposed to take place simultaneously in Detroit, Washington, Paris and London - is currently consuming hours of planning, including elaborate discussions on how to publicize the protest in a country without basic communications.

To send a unified message to the terrorists, the IRDC members want every business, school, mosque, political party, union and neighborhood group in Iraq to urge people to demonstrate.

"I can see the great effort they are putting into this. If they are asking all these organizations to help, why don't they ask each group to pay a small amount of money to help make a civilian volunteer force to protect the schools and neighborhoods?" Ali says. "You know terrorists are also targetting crowds. Are you sure they should be encouraging people to get in the streets?"

True, Iraq is finally free to have demonstrations, one of the basic rights under democracy.

"But this is the first time we are seeing car bombs, grenades, disguises like donkey carts for bombs," Ali insists. "They should educate people about terrorism not just tell them to walk in the street and shout. Iraqi people don't really have meetings and talk about community issues except in the Ba'ath Party.

"When Saddam had an election, the Ba'ath party carried out everything. They were professors in the universities, employees in government agencies, even at the smallest level they were spread through every neighborhood, so it was very organized. Now the IRDC is trying to import a very American concept. It's a nice idea but I don't think it works with the current situation. They are finding a lot of sympathetic people who want to feel they are doing something important, but this is not what we need right now. We need security, electricity, jobs. The Iraqi people are still living in the dark ages and here they are gathering thousands of people for nothing."

Jalil Talib al-Musawi, a former Army officer who said he represented an Islamic group called al Sadeh al Ashroff ("Honest Relatives of the Prophet"), seemed to agree.

"Why aren't you directing your energy at the imams of the mosques?" al-Musawi said at a recent IRDC planning meeting. "You should monitor the mosques. After six rocket-propelled grenades were fired the other day, the mosques in Khadra and in Dora started to broadcast halahil (celebratory noises often heard at weddings)."

US Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling has said there are about 20 mosques in Baghdad that the military is keeping tabs on because of potentially incendiary Friday sermons. It's not clear how much free speech the clerics will have in this new democracy.