Baghdad Town Hall Meeting Draws Hundreds of Participants
By David Shelby
Iraqi officials presided over Baghdad's first formal town hall meeting January 28, offering citizens of the Iraqi capital their first opportunity to come together in a citywide forum to discuss issues related to the democratization process and the transition of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.
Several hundred people were in attendance, according to Iraqi Governing Council Spokesman Hamid Kifaei, including many business leaders, academics, governing council members, and state sector managers.
"People were fascinated and happy," Kifaei said in a January 28 interview with the Washington File. "It seems too good to be true. But people are very happy that it is happening."
Kifaei said that the discussion was wide-ranging, touching on issues from the transition of sovereignty under the November 15 agreement to the establishment of laws, respect for human rights and questions of federalism for the Iraqi Kurdish population.
"People are hopeful," Kifaei said. "For the first time they see hope for the future."
He noted that the meeting offered people a chance to get to know each other and to exchange views and criticism in a peaceful, open forum.
The town hall meeting in Baghdad follows similar meetings in the cities of Basra and Mosul. Ba'quba is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting January 29. Smaller town hall meetings are also being held in 600 towns and provincial capitals across the country.
The meetings typically feature a panel of leaders from the local and national levels who are in positions to field questions from the audience about political, legal and community issues. Kifaei observed that the meetings also generate continuing discussion between the participants outside of the meeting halls.
Past town hall meetings have addressed issues ranging from the role of Islam in the new government to the potential for U.N. involvement in the transition process and the role of women in the political process. These meetings have drawn men and women from all sectors of the community, as well as all ethnic and religious groups.
According to Kifaei, the goal of the meetings is to facilitate discussion and participation in the political process.