Iraqi delegation attends Richmond Town Meeting
03/04/08 5:45PM By Steve Zind
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(Host) One town meeting today hosted an unusual group of observers. A delegation from Iraq was in the state to see Vermont's exercise in grassroots democracy in action.
VPR's Steve Zind reports.
(moderator) "All articles may be amended..."
(Zind) Richmond voters wearing their winter coats and boots had already settled into the school gymnasium when the small entourage entered.
The six men were dressed in suits. They and the group's sole woman member moved quietly to the back of the room, listening as a translator explained the proceedings.
(Zind) A few minutes later, the town moderator introduced them.
(Moderator) "You may have noticed a group of individuals entered the meeting. They are from Baghdad, Iraq. Welcome"
(Zind) The group has been in Vermont since Saturday, as part of a program organized by the Department of State, with assistance from the Vermont Council on World Affairs. As she left the Richmond meeting Baghdad resident Shadeh al-Obaidi reflected on what she had seen.
(Obieti iraqis1) "We see how the citizens come and sit and talk with the people, what they want from them. I see how you discuss the budget and the projects you want to do in Vermont."
(Zind) al-Obaidi serves on a neighborhood council, which is a kind of local select board in Baghdad.
Another member of the group is Hassan al-Khersan. al-Khersan says the kind of civic involvement that he watched at town meeting is still largely unknown in Iraq. He says Iraqis haven't yet learned to work on their own to solve the problems of a nation where people are accustomed to the government controlling every aspect of life.
(al Khersan Iraq) "Everything is the concern of the government. People will walk on any line drawn by the government. If the line is cut, the people will stop."
(Zind) al-Khersan runs one of Iraq's few non-governmental organizations. It's a neighborhood group that helps families with children who have lost fathers in the violence in Iraq. He says there are many such children.
Speaking through an interpreter, Kadim al-Mansoori says he's grateful to the United States for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Then al-Mansoori recited a list of problems in the wake of Saddam's fall: terrorism and sectarian strife have forced many Iraqis to flee their country. For those who remain, there's high unemployment and a lack of the most basic services and, still, the threat of violence
(al-Mansoori) "Unfortunately Iraq has become a lab for all international experiments."
(Zind) Al-Mansoori says there are many more people in Iraq who, like the members of this group, are committed to bring peace and civil society to their country.
For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.