Despite Paul Bremers Earlier Opposition

Despite Paul Bremer’s earlier opposition to municipal elections, some form of urban self-government is being arranged by the British and American militaries. On Sunday it was reported by AFP that the Basra governing council of 31 delegates had elected a new interim mayor of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city by secret ballot. The electee is Shiite judge Wail Abdul Latif, a former Iraqi judge and port administrator who was imprisoned for a year by Saddam. The security situation in Basra seems to be a bit better than Baghdad’s, though Danish Muslim administrator of the area Ole Wohlers Olsen had criticized the US for not helping in security issues there. Some 10,000 Basrans came out for self-rule last month. A similar process of building up the basis for elections from neighborhood councils is going on in Baghdad, where an interim Baghdad council has been elected. The LA Times reports that “Together, the Iraqis, the colonel and other U.S. military and civilian officials have formed 88 neighborhood “advisory councils.” The neighborhood councils in turn elected the members of nine district councils, who then elected the members of the Baghdad City Council.”

Unfortunately, in the absence of telephones or media, and given the appointive and elite character of the neighborhood councils, not many Iraqis seem to even know they exist. It is hard to know the significance of these moves right now. Are they window-dressing or the tentative beginnings of municipal democracy? How will Iraqis perceive them a year from now? A lot probably hangs on whether the US can convince Iraqis that they are gradually gaining self-rule.