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Iraqis at Work

Rend Rahim Francke, who will represent the Iraqi Governing Council in Washington, has her work cut out for her.

11:00 PM, Dec 2, 2003 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
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THERE'S NO GAINSAYING the quality of many of the people who are risking their lives to build the new Iraq. On that score, it was gratifying to learn that Rend Rahim Francke will represent the Iraqi Governing Council in Washington. A longtime supporter of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and one who pledges political allegiance only to the democratic center, Francke is discerning, judicious, determined, and brave.

It's also true that she has lived most of her 54 years outside her homeland. Because critics are bound to fasten on this fact, it needs examining. It means her on-the-ground knowledge of Iraq today is less extensive and textured than if she had stayed, to be sure (though her Iraq Foundation maintained telephone contact with a wide range of contacts inside Saddam's Iraq). Nor can she claim the cachet of having been brutalized by the tyrant. But those observations hardly exhaust the subject.

As journalist Julie Flint notes in a commentary for the Beirut Daily Star, had Rend Rahim Francke "stayed in her country, she would certainly have been tortured, killed, or both. She could not have been a passive observer of Saddam's atrocities, since passivity is not one of her characteristics."

Departure from Iraq meant physical survival. And a Western education--at English boarding schools, Cambridge University, and the Sorbonne--followed by two decades' residence in the United States meant a grounding in political values ill nourished on her home terrain. Those values are now at a premium.

Iraq has lots of engineers. It needs Iraqis who understand freedom. As a founder and executive director since 1991 of the Iraq Foundation, a private human-rights organization based in Washington, D.C., Francke has been a vigorous participant in civil society for more than a decade. She has written books ("The Arab Shia: The Forgotten Muslims," with Graham E. Fuller, 2000), testified before Congress, and opined at think tanks. She has raised money and met a budget and assisted more than 30,000 political refugees from Iraq to resettle in the United States after 1991.

She knows what her countrymen don't know about self-government. Which is why in September she rebuked the Coalition for failing to fund civic education, even as it talks of elections, or to build "the monitoring and reporting groups that are essential to the promotion of good governance, the protection of rights." It is also why she urges Iraqis to think less in terms of ethnicity and more in terms of a common Iraqi citizenship.

Finally, as one who is at home in Washington and London, she can engage the Coalition authorities with minimal friction and misunderstanding. Indeed, she seems cut out to be what Washington needs: a friend who is unafraid to push and prod and when necessary bring unwelcome news.

That Francke is a friend to the American effort in Iraq is not in doubt. Indeed, the extent to which she shares the president's vision of Iraqi democracy as a catalyst for change throughout the Middle East is startling. Have a look at her "Prospects for Democracy in Iraq" written last January, before the war. A sentence like this one--"Removing Saddam Hussein would liberate the Iraq people's energy and talents so that they may be directed towards good, not evil"--sounds like no one so much as George Bush. (Download the whole statement here.)

The great unknown about this endeavor is whether it is doable. The odds improve when people like Rend Rahim Franke, who could so easily protect themselves and stand aloof, put their shoulders to the wheel.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.