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March 8, 2004

Hilary F. White -- 703-343-9631


Hilla, Babil Province, Iraq. The Regional Democracy Center, which represents the cornerstone of democracy for south central Iraq, opened today. The Center provides a place for sheikhs, tribal leaders, community leaders, men, women, and students to promote democracy throughout south central Iraq, an area that includes 12 million people.

More than 3,000 people attended the event. They included tribal leaders and sheikhs that represent 150 tribes from Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Al Kut, Diwaniyah, and Ramadi. From Ramadi alone, 35 of the 71 tribes in Ramadi attended. Collectively, these tribal leaders and sheikhs represent millions of people throughout South Central Iraq. Women from Women's Rights Centers; men and women from Human Rights Centers; members of the Farmers' Union, and students also came to the opening. These groups will work together at the Regional Democracy Center to learn about democracy and promote democratic principles throughout south central Iraq.

Organizers played a taped message from President George W. Bush. The President sent his congratulations on the opening of the Center and said:

"This Center will be an important resource in helping all Iraqis learn the principle of democracy and discover the power of freedom. I want to thank the founder of this Center, Sayyed Qizwini, who recently said, 'For 35 years we didn't know about democracy. Now we want to learn about it.' The time has come, and your opportunity is here...your Center already represents an organization that includes all people working together toward this common goal, a democratic Iraq. All successful democracies are built on a foundation of tolerance, religious liberty, respect for both men and women, the rule of law and economic freedom. Yet all democracies do not look the same. Around the world, democracy grows in very different circumstances."

Sayyed Farqat Al Qizwini, founder of the Democratic Iraqi Gathering, urged those present to continue moving democracy forward in Iraq:

"From here, we will all -- Shi'ia, Sunni, and Kurd -- start building a new democracy in Iraq...I hope this place will be filled with all Iraqis, with women, with my sisters...with your eyes, you will see a new democratic Iraq...say yes for a united Iraq!"

President Bush also relayed his confidence that Iraq will succeed as a democratic country:

"Like you, I believe democracy can thrive in Iraq, alongside your nation's rich cultural and religious traditions...the American people stand with you as you build a free and democratic Iraq. Thank you for listening. May God bless all the people of Iraq, and may He bless your great nation."

After the opening of the Regional Democracy Center, those present learned the Iraqi Governing Council had signed the Transitional Administrative Law. The opening of the Regional Democracy Center and the signing of the TAL show a country moving toward sovereignty and democracy.

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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