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ROBERT LANDRY ILLUSTRATION

In three weeks, I’ll be departing Iraq. In fact, by the time this article is published I’ll be back in the good ole U.S. of A., reunited with my family and starting a new Marine Corps assignment. A year of my life has been spent here. I have missed the entire third year of my son’s life. My personal sacrifices and those of my fellow Marines and my family have been significant, but they aren’t without reward.

I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity that most Americans will never have. I have personally witnessed the development of a nascent democracy. I have been given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of 50 widows by helping them receive a cow each and then help them receive professional training to appropriately care for the cow. I have been afforded the occasion to help mentor members of a provincial legislative body. I have been fortunate to become closely acquainted with the only female Judge in the history of Anbar Province. I was able to help with the writing and publication of 17 narratives written by women around Anbar Province, which were all published into a book and distributed to libraries and schools around the province in order to empower women in a traditionally oppressive culture. And, I’ve been honored by meeting and working with some fellow Americans who are dedicated to assisting Iraqis achieve peace, security and democracy and to making the world a better place to live.

All of these accomplishments have been made, and yet there’s still so much that needs to be done. Recently, one of the Civil Society Organization leaders that I work with regularly told me that she was grateful for all that has been done over the past year, but the people of Anbar are still in need of more. They need more government leadership, more economic prosperity and more guidance from Americans and other helpful nations.

Although I’ve seen over the past year how the Americans have slowly stepped into the background while the Anbaris have stepped up to provide their own security for key leaders and public places, I’ve also watched as the Provincial Council became ineffective because the reigning party lost confidence as a legislative body due to the focus on the upcoming elections. I have been appalled at the restrictions placed on the provincial government by the central government – old wounds between Sunnis and Shias still haven’t healed. But isn’t this what budding democracies experience in the first years of their existences?

There is some criticism of the Iraqis from Americans, and others, about how the government here has performed. Are these criticisms warranted? Did not our own government go through some tough times when our democracy was initially formed? In fact, our democracy is still a young experiment relative to the history of civilization in Iraq. Perhaps it isn’t the newness of democracy that’s a problem in Iraq. Rather it could be the oldness of the cultural traditions that are hindering what Americans would perceive to be “progress” in Iraq. It has taken the U.S. 233 years to get where we are today. Is it realistic to expect Iraq to slough off the darkness of a brutal dictatorship and habits of centuries-old cultural traditions in just less than six years? I say no, it isn’t. One of my colleagues likes to refer to Iraqi politics as “contact politics” because people here are literally killed over political disagreements. One must remember that people were and are killed over political disagreements in Western democracies as well. Let us not forget the big disagreement in Europe known as World War I. Democracy was at stake in several participating nations of the Great War and their democracies came out stronger then before the war. Chaos and violence are by-products of change. Recently Iraq has undergone a significant, one might say seismic, change. Fortunately, for Iraqis and for world peace and security, some members of the international community are willing to assist them during this tumultuous period. Developing democracy is never without sacrifice and, like most Americans, I’m reminded daily of the huge sacrifice in lost lives and spent treasury that our nation has felt as we try again to help those who didn’t have the opportunity themselves to experiment life under the umbrella of democracy and the rule of law.

Security is much better than it was when I first arrived. In all honesty, I feel safer on the streets of Ramadi than I do on some streets in the U.S. Now that security has improved, the people here can focus on continuing to develop their democracy – a democracy that fits into a cultural context that will be successful in Anbar. So much is still needed by the people of Anbar, but Anbar needs its people to participate in the political process in order to make it work. By January 31, 2009, the people of Anbar will have participated through provincial elections. If the elections are successful, by Iraqi standards, and are validated by international organizations, like the United Nations, and there’s a peaceful transition of power, then this young democracy may well be on its way to becoming a fixed part of the new Iraqi way of life. And I and my fellow Americans who have worked in Iraq and have helped in our own tiny way to make Iraqi life a bit better may take small comfort in knowing that the sacrifices of our fallen comrades was a truly a worthy sacrifice.

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