January 26, 2005


Coaching Iraq's New Candidates, Discreetly: U.S.-Funded Programs Nurture Voting Process (Karl Vick and Robin Wright, January 26, 2005, Washington Post)

The midwives of democracy toil behind the towering gray blast walls that encase every Western enterprise in the new Iraq. This one, in an anonymous cluster of buildings, houses the country's first school for political candidates.

There is a miniature television studio, where novice office-seekers learn the fine art of the sound bite and the value of "earned media." There are conference rooms, where instructors from countries that have already left war behind conduct seminars on "Six Steps to Planning and Winning a Campaign." (Step 3: Targeting the Voters).

A graphic artist stands by with advice on getting a party's poster noticed on the cluttered streets of Baghdad. A former congressional staffer stands by to emphasize the vital difference between an army of volunteers and an armed militia.

And on the rooftops of nearby buildings, snipers simply stand by, their vigil as discreet as the low-profile democracy-building effort underway below.

Funded by U.S. taxpayers, the Baghdad office of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs stands at the ambitious heart of the American effort to make Iraq a model democracy in the Arab world. In the 13 months it has operated in the country, the institute has tutored political aspirants from all of Iraq's major parties, trained about 10,000 domestic election observers and nurtured thousands of ordinary citizens seeking to build the institutions that form the backbone of free societies.

The work is in many ways entirely routine for the institute -- as it is for the two other Washington-based organizations that are here advising on the architecture of democracy: the International Republican Institute (IRI), which declined requests for an interview, and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), which along with the United Nations is providing crucial technical assistance to Iraq's electoral commission. The groups work in scores of countries, from those in Eastern Europe to Yemen and Indonesia, and arrived in Baghdad with solid reputations for encouraging democratic norms. Together, the three have been allotted as much as $90 million for their work in Iraq.

But such is the state of Iraq less than a week before elections for the National Assembly that the Democratic Institute's instructors dare not see their names in print.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2005 8:06 AM
Comments for this post are closed.