KARBALA, Iraq -- Coalition forces met July 13 at Karbala University with representatives of several Iraqi political parties to discuss their role in the future of Iraq.
The people present at the meeting came from many diverse parts of the political spectrum, including the Islamic Coalition, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Iraqi National Coalition, the Iraqi National Congress, the Supreme Council for the Liberation of Iraq, and others.
All the different parties were invited to share various political views on Iraq's future, said Lt. Col. Matthew A. Lopez, a Naperville, Ill. resident who is the military governor of Karbala province and 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment commanding officer.
"One of the great things about democracy and freedom is that there is no party that is not welcome," he said.
Some of the Iraqis opened with their concerns that there should be a place on the local city council for every political party in the city.
For representation to be fair and accurate, it is necessary for only those with a true following amongst the people to be able to claim a position of representation, Lopez told them.
"The city council should only be representative of the people," he said. "How the council could expand, is those who have enough support within Karbala, those are the ones who should be added to the city council.
"Not every political party deserves representation on the city council, but if any party can show me that they have a substantial following, I will make sure they have a place on the council."
The current city council is only an interim council to advise the military governor and have no real power to do things without his approval, therefore those with concerns and advice could bring their problems to him just as easily as those on the city council - if they can prove they have a following amongst the people, Lopez said.
"I would like to work with them as individuals and as a group," Lopez said of the various political parties. "The most important thing to me and the coalition forces is the people of Karbala."
In the mean time, Lopez encouraged those present to begin doing what they could to help the people.
"There are many challenges in this city," he told them. "I have many groups telling me what all the problems are: crime, security, unemployment, food. What I'm looking for is leaders in the community who can also help me to solve these problems."
Helping the people is a good way to begin winning the people and proving themselves as viable leaders, said Lt. Col. Brice Leslie, 47, from West Brookfield, Mass., an Army reservist from West Brookfield, Mass. with the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade of Philadelphia, Pa., and the government support team chief for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.
"I stress that this is an interim city council, and it behooves you to do the things to get the political support to get elected," he told those present. "If everyone who represented someone was on the city council, it would become an unmanageable board of hundreds of people, and nothing would get done, but any party can get elected once there are open and free elections."
The parties should prepare for the future when the council is composed of elected officials, Lopez said.
"If they have a large enough constituency, then when free elections are held, they can win those offices," he said of political parties wishing to have influence in Iraq's future.
"I need the help of any group that is willing to help," Lopez said. "I've met with many groups, and I'm willing to meet with any groups that are willing to help us."
Though there is a great deal of work to do before the people of Karbala are ready to throw off the mental yoke of three decades of political oppression, freedom will have its positive effects in time, Lopez said.
"Each individual has individual rights," he told the various parties. "However, I think it will take people here a while to realize that people have freedoms they did not have under Saddam."