10 March 2004

Iraqis learn red tape, the Indian way

Quietly, though, as opposed to sending troops, India has chosen the less glamorous task of training Iraqi bureaucrats, at the request of the US.

The first batch of 14 senior officials from Iraq arrived in India recently and are being trained at the prestigious Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute, which turns out India's vaunted and feared civil servants - officers of the Indian Administrative Services - at the Himalayan hill station of Mussourie, 340 kilometers from the capital Delhi. The Iraqis will be schooled in how to function in a democratic society, and will go through various orientation programs at most ministries, especially foreign, finance and commerce.

India has a world-wide reputation for its 9 million-strong central and state government bureaucracy, the foundations of which were honed during British rule, although it also has a reputation for excessive red tape, and being prone to corruption.

J N Dikshit, a retired foreign secretary, says that the Iraqi officers will not only receive training in administration, but in diplomacy as well. A senior officer from the Iraqi group, who requested not to be named, commented that there is a feeling among many officials in Iraq that the US-led war was precipitated in part by Iraq's diplomatic failures. He says that perhaps the war and the consequent miseries of the Iraqis could have been avoided with mature diplomacy, rather than saber rattling.

This is a hopeful, if small, sign that things in Iraq will improve over the next few months. It seems to me that getting the nuts-and-bolts right is as important as the large and sexy issues like the new Temporary Administrative Law or dealing with the underlying security problem.

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