June 20, 2003


With no government to turn to, Ali and his neighbors decided to make their own, forming a neighborhood council and taking responsibility for getting power and water up and running, cleaning up the sewage, arranging delivery of cooking gas canisters, clearing the schoolyards and every other detail of municipal life.

And the headache of it all -- the nitty-gritty, unsolvable, hair-tearing frustration of trying to run a city neighborhood with no money, office, phone or car -- fills Ali with pure elation.

"We are appreciating this opportunity," Ali, a slight, carefully dressed man with neat salt-and-pepper hair, said on a recent sweltering evening as the council gathered in the courtyard of the al-Ahud primary school. "We have suffered for a long period. This is the first time we are taking responsibility for ourselves."

Today, representatives of neighborhood councils all over Baghdad will gather for the first time. The plan is to have them elect members to a district council, which in turn will choose representatives to serve on a Baghdad city council scheduled to be operational by the end of June.

But read the whole thing.