Under Fire


Fred Hiatt, the WaPo editorial page editor, is keeping his eye on efforts by ordinary Iraqis to build the civil institutions on which their emerging society will depend. Thugs are not only killing and wounding Iraqis and Americans, he writes, "They are blocking precisely the kinds of interaction a society needs to begin recovering from decades of dictatorship."

Hiatt describes the experience of A. Heather Coyne, the chief representative in Iraq of the U.S. Institute of Peace, who "spends her days working with that country's emerging civil society." Back in the U.S. Coyne "finds Americans astonished to hear that there is an emerging civil society—that Iraqis remain involved with rebuilding their country despite all the explosions and killings."

Coyne confirms that this is an increasingly difficult task. Iraqis, for example, no longer dare meet directly with her in her Green Zone offices. Still, Coyne cites "the fortitude and persistence in the face of attacks of the Iraqis she works with." Iraqi teachers keep lecturing, even though they may require a phalanx of bodyguards. Others "drive 11 or 12 hours through multiple dangerous checkpoints to get books and practical advice and lessons from other Iraqis" about dealing with sectarian conflicts. "One local leader called the day after being shot three times—to ask whether the institute had accepted the people he had recommended to take part in a seminar. Another, whose house was torched, got in touch to make sure Coyne had his new telephone number."

A great many courageous Iraqis, concludes Hiatt, "are committed to making democracy and tolerance work" in their country. Coyne, writes Hiatt, "recently interviewed applicants for Fulbright grants, smart Iraqis willing to risk an association with a U.S. program because they dream of starting an Internet site, or a government watchdog organization, or a public health project. And when they are asked why they take the risk, they invariably answer, 'Because it wasn't possible before.'"