Saturday, August 23, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 23 Aug 2008

From MNF-I, Government 101: Seeds of Democracy in Western al-Anbar.

RUTBAH — City and village leaders from around the region gathered at the Rutbah City Council building here Aug. 18-20, to learn the fundamentals of running a democratic government.

“It does my heart good that when I showed up here and started talking to the leaders, we discussed education and government and not once talked about security,” said Lt. Col. Russell E. Smith, 44, battalion commander, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, from Rochester, N.H. “This is a huge step in this area because it proves that we’ve turned a corner and are now focusing on rebuilding western al-Anbar [province].”

During the training, the leaders gathered inside the conference room to learn the basics of operating a government. The men learned structure, organization of councils and economic strategies. The training started in December 2007, and the leaders meet for three days every two months to ensure they are best equipped to handle their positions.

“A lot of these men come from different tribes and different backgrounds,” said Mark B. Humphries, 54, a liaison officer with the U.S. State Department from Webster, Texas. “When they enter their office, they must take off the tribal robe and perform as public servants for the whole district. They’re still adapting, and our job is to help them through the transition.”

The training was set up in a three-level process. The first was teaching Coalition forces Iraqi law. The second was teaching Iraqi leaders to be leaders, and the third was teaching councilmen to be councilmen. Although the training is only in its second phase, the leaders have already begun to make a difference.

“So far we’ve been able to solve the electricity and water problems in the city,” said Qasim Marai Awad, mayor of Rutbah. “Progress happens step by step, and we hope it continues.”

2nd LAR and other Coalition units will continue to support the leaders of western al-Anbar province until the local government is established and running at full capacity.

“I want to thank the Coalition forces for supporting the classes to improve the leadership,” said Qasim. “It’s good for the government to have new ideas on how to improve everything.”