Sohair Al-Mosully, an Iraqi-born architect who collaborated with slain Shiite leader Abdul Majid Khoei, describes the cleric as a visionary and a liberal who had a clear idea of what postwar Iraq would look like.
Khoei was killed in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf Thursday when he was set upon by an armed mob that may have been trying to avenge the killing of a Shiite spiritual leader in 1999. Khoei was present to arrange a ceremony of reconciliation.
Al-Mosully, an Iraqi American Sunni Muslim educated at the University of Baghdad, said Khoei was a firm believer in the separation of church and state but was eager to move the spiritual seat of Shiite Muslims from Iran to Iraq.
Al-Mosully was in Washington this week for meetings and workshops on local government structures under the auspices of the Future of Iraq project, a group launched by the State Department in October. She and Khoei served on a committee on local government that also included nine Shiite Muslims and an Assyrian Christian.
She described the death of Khoei as a setback in plans to build a forward-looking and modern Iraq. During meetings in October and February, she worked with him to establish subcommittees to deal with the administration of holy sites, civil society, capacity building, education and local structures in Iraq's 18 provinces.
The subcommittees produced reports laying the groundwork for a blueprint for development. The aim was to organize elections, beginning with municipal councils and then proceeding toward democracy, including a bill of rights.
Al-Mosully said she was trying to track down Khoei when she learned of his death. She was seeking approval for a draft plan to establish social services in Iraq.
"He was very keen on that," she said. "He wanted to make sure it would take care of war widows, or widows of those who perished in jails, orphans, the handicapped, mentally challenged and those traumatized or depressed by what had transpired in Iraq. At least 25 percent of Iraqis would be eligible for such services.
"The day he died, I vowed to complete it and pursue implementation with his Al Khoei Foundation and the State Department. I sat down and finished it. It was what he cared about."
When they first met, the group was polarized, but members emerged with great rapport and a sense of mission, Al-Mosully said during an interview yesterday. Khoei suggested that Najaf and Karbala be given a special status, like the Vatican, and be administered as Shiite Islam's holiest cities.
She said that Khoei had a quick answer when asked why the sites should be administered by Shiites: "Because we are the majority."
He was "very sharp, direct and very charismatic. I would not have minded if someone like him had become president," Al-Mosully said. "I have great respect for all the people he brought with him to our meetings."
Al-Mosully also praised the State Department's role in the project. "Amazing work has been accomplished" in several areas, she said. U.S. organizers attend the meetings, but Iraqi participants discuss and debate the issues on their own, she said. The U.S. advisers offer summary suggestions at the end of each session, she said.
"The State Department's work is very credible and many Iraqi Americans who were reluctant to join us before the war are asking to join now," she said. Participation is voluntary, with the State Department covering travel expenses, she said.
Al-Mosully, whose family is from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, resettled in Baghdad, then moved to London in the late 1980s. She and her husband shuttled between Kuwait and Britain while working for a U.S. architectural firm with projects in Kuwait City and Baghdad. They moved in 1990 to Boston, where she pursued master's degrees at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Help for Iraqi Hospitals
Norway's minister of international development said her government has provided almost $60 million in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction aid for Iraq.
Hilde Johnson, who attended World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings last weekend, said one-third of the aid was disbursed before the war to non-governmental organizations and relief agencies coordinating with the United Nations. She said water engineers working for Norwegian Church Aid arrived in Basra last week and 50 sets of surgical equipment worth about $1 million were sent to Iraq.
Johnson said Norway's prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, told President Bush that Norway could not participate in the military coalition against Iraq without another U.N. resolution. But he promised to send early relief aid to Iraq.
There was considerable discussion outside the official proceedings at the World Bank meetings about the need for U.N. coordination in the rehabilitation of Iraq, Johnson said. Most participants supported another U.N. resolution for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq and to ensure international commitments.
Hussein's Statue Speaks
Lebanese columnist Ghassan Tueni wrote a poignant editorial about Iraq yesterday in the Beirut newspaper al-Nahar that took the form of an imaginary conversation between a journalist and Saddam Hussein's last statue in Tikrit.
The column characterizes the hollow rhetoric of the ousted Iraqi leader and the inability of the Arab news media to question important issues. The journalist tells the statue he feels as if his pen "had become a comatose hostage."
"Why did any of your doubles not volunteer to lead the battle you always talked about, in poetic language, to die as a hero, his sword in his hand, so your revolution could have an epic ending and so you could vanish in the shadow of legends and your memory as a ghost who can reappear at any time can linger?" the journalist asks.
The statue tells the journalist to advise Arabs not to build statues in their own image as long as they are alive or in power. Remove the giant pictures that are plastered on the walls of palaces, ministries and streets, says the statue.
"Only the statues built after death preserve the secrets of leaders who end up glorious."