KARBALA, Iraq -- Following the resignation of the previous U.S.-appointed mayor, who quit two weeks ago amid allegations of financial impropriety, Karbala's city council met with the newest mayor July 13 to continue work on a new governmental structure.
Though the investigation of wrongdoing is still pending, all $50,000, which had been allegedly given by another member of the council to a group outlawed by the coalition, has been recovered.
This incident is just one example of the many challenges the coalition has faced as they try to prepare the Iraqi people for self-rule.
"Trying to establish a democratic government after 30 years of Saddam's rule is a very, very difficult job," said Lt. Col. Matthew A. Lopez, 39, from Naperville, Ill., the military governor of Karbala province and commander of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.
"The concept of fiscal responsibility for government officials is very foreign, because under the Saddam regime, power of the government was absolute," he said. "It will take a long time for government officials to transition to the concept that they work for the people, and that the needs of the people, not of the individual, should come first."
Lopez expressed faith in the ability of Karbala's new mayor, Akram Al-Yasari, to lead the city council in a professional and responsible way.
"I think the new mayor is very educated and intelligent, and he has a lot greater experience in working with the city council," he said. "He brings a great sense of maturity to the job."
Al-Yasari, a lecturer at the local university who is preparing for doctorate in business administration, said he feels his experience and knowledge will be helpful in dealing with the problems that face the Islamic holy city.
"We have a big unemployment problem, and we have problems with electricity and water and health services, but I'm happy to have this position, hoping that I can offer services to my dear citizens," he said. "I will invest my experience because I am a specialist in business administration and I have the experience of office work."
"I will be happy as long as I can offer services to my citizens," Al-Yasari added.
Al-Yasari knows what he would like to accomplish for the city.
"I will try first to bring security and calm for the city," he said. "Then, I'll try to improve the services offered to the citizens, especially health and sanitation, and also I am trying to activate the economic movement and make it easier for the companies in the field of industry, agriculture, and other development fields."
With all the work that remains, there has still been noticeable improvement since the coalition first arrived in Karbala, Lopez said.
"They've made huge improvements in the concept of working for the people's needs," he said. "I think the area we've come the furthest in is law enforcement. The people of Karbala have already noticed a large change in the behavior and performance of the law officers of Karbala. I credit the willingness of the police officers and the training and mentorship provided by the military police, civil affairs units, and Marines in training the police force."
Important in Karbala's future is the role it plays in the Muslim faith - one it can now resume with the removal of Saddam from power, Al-Yasari said.
"Citizens of Karbala used to every year receive visitors from all over the world - Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Iran, Syria, India, Pakistan, Indonesia - all over the world, but those Muslims were forbidden to visit Karbala for the last three decades," he said. "So, we expect that a huge amount of visitors will visit this city in the future."
Karbala has the potential for a very promising future if the people choose it, Lopez said.
"I think that if the people of Karbala embrace their new freedoms, and they're willing to work toward self-governance, Karbala will attain our vision," he said. "I think the children of Karbala will grow up in a much better environment."
The make up of the city council itself reflects the changes and improvements in the city since the coalition first arrived.
"There are two women on the city council, a historic first," Lopez said. "Another important step in the development of the city council was the removal of the ministry of media, which in the past was responsible for propaganda and controlling the media. Karbala has a free TV station, and we are working to develop a free newspaper."
Lopez's hope is that the efforts of the service members of the Marine battalion will have a lasting effect in Karbala.
"I hope that we have created the bedrock of success for the security, prosperity and self-governance of Karbala," he said. "Our vision for the city is that Karbala serve as a model city for all Iraq."
An official with the Coalition Provisional Authority, Michael Gfoeller, of Fremont, Ohio, said he was impressed with the work the Marines have accomplished.
"The Marines have done everything well," he said. "Maybe it's not generally realized, but if we look at the humanitarian picture, and democratization, 99 percent of the work has been done by the Marines and Army civil affairs."