Weeks after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, as parts of the capital were still smoldering, American soldiers and diplomats turned to men like Hassan Shama and Omar Rahman Rahmani in their quest to plant the seeds of representative democracy.
In Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, they held impromptu neighborhood caucuses to appoint district and neighborhood advisory councils. The local government bodies were given no official charter, lawmaking power or public budget. In the years that followed, as the capital became a bloody battleground and the country descended into near-anarchy, council members were among the U.S. military’s staunchest allies. They provided information about extremists, offered insight into Iraqi society and gave American-imposed security measures a veneer of Iraqi legitimacy.
As U.S. troops have sharply disengaged from Baghdad in recent months, local representatives say they are feeling powerless and abandoned. The Iraqi government has taken no steps to hold elections for the councils, and the Baghdad provincial council is culling them of members it deems unqualified or unfit for service.
The looming demise of the local councils — at least as the Americans established them — is an ominous sign of the brand of democracy that is likely to reign in Iraq as the Americans depart, council members say. They worry that constituents will no longer have grass-roots representation and that power will become far more centralized in the hands of a few. [continued…]