Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
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IRAQ: The art of political persuasion

February 7, 2008 |  7:56 pm

Lobbying the government for money to build local projects sometimes takes on a disreputable air in America.

But in Iraq, it is precisely the kind of skill that U.S. officials think local officials, tribal sheiks, teachers, contractors and others need.

So the U.S. Agency for International Development, with support from the Marines, is funding a class here near the border with Syria.

Among the topics being taught to three dozen Iraqi students: How to gather your facts, figures, cost estimates, construction timelines and other information to convince the provincial government in Ramadi and the central government in Baghdad of the region's needs.

"It's not easy for them," said one of the instructors, an Iraqi who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from insurgents. "Before now, everything came from the central government, without questions. But this is the future."

At a session this week, many of the students complained bitterly that the provincial and central governments ignore their region, and that building contracts often go to outsiders with political clout for things that local residents don't regard as priorities. Repairing the water, sewage and electrical systems are crucial, they said.

"We need to learn how to talk to the other governments and how to make them listen to us," said Hameed Nawar Al Saimany, a member of the municipal council in Qaim.

— Tony Perry in Husaybah, Iraq