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THE END OF DEMOCRACY PROMOTION IN IRAQ?

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"America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof."

So spoke President George W. Bush in his second inaugural address last January, vowing to help build democratic institutions and strengthen civil society in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Yet today, the Bush administration is substantially reducing funding for the organizations that are traditionally mandated to transform the president's vision into reality.

In budget requests to Congress, funding for democracy promotion in Iraq has been limited. Some organizations ran out of funds in April; others are trying to make their resources last through the summer.

At risk are projects to teach Iraqis how to create and manage political parties, organize and run think tanks, human rights organizations, a free press, and trade unions.

The decline in funding is being attributed to ballooning security costs, which have already caused the Bush Administration to scale back its ambitious reconstruction programs designed to restore Iraq's infrastructure.

Administration officials admit they are requesting fewer dollars for traditional democracy-building programs, but contend that their efforts to help Iraqis to run more effective ministries also contribute to democracy.

At the beginning of the Iraq war, money was not a problem for the organizations traditionally involved in promoting democracy.

For example, soon after the fall of Baghdad, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), received $25 million to expand its Iraq programs, and eventually received a total of $71 million.

It distributed some of these funds to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), and its sister organization, the International Republican Institute (IRI), both affiliated with America's two main political parties.

Now the funding for both organizations has dried up. Their sole source of finance are special funds earmarked by Congress last year, as the result of an effort spearheaded by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. The funds will be exhausted later this year.

"The solution to Iraq lies in the political process, and it's reckless for the White House to cut funds to strengthen democracy in Iraq at this time," Kennedy said.

The NED has received its final $3 million, but no further funding source has been identified. "It does feel like everybody's getting squeezed in this area," Barbara Haig, the endowment's vice president, told The Washington Post, adding, "There probably is a commitment to these programs in principle. I don't know how much commitment there is in specificity."

The Bush administration has included only $15 million for the two party institutes in next year's budget. The total for democracy promotion in Iraq for 2007 is $63 million, which would mean that most programs would have to be cut. Another $10 million for democracy promotion was included in the president's supplemental request to Congress. This is a tiny fraction of the ten of millions the US spends in Iraq each day.

Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group, called the situation "a travesty" and said she is "appalled" that more is not being done.

"This is the time to show that democracy promotion is more than holding an election. The US will be making a mistake if it "can't see fit to fund follow-up democracy promotion at this time," she said.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
 
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