Washington - President Bush welcomed a delegation of Iraqi leaders from Babil province to the White House July 26 as part of the officials' visit to the United States to study the operation of state and local governments.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the visit was organized by Representative Chris Cannon (Republican from Utah) and University of Utah professor emeritus James Mayfield.
Speaking to the press July 26, McClellan said that during their meeting with the president, Bush "talked to them about his strong belief in freedom and how free societies are peaceful societies and how free societies are committed to the betterment of the people in those societies."
According to press reports and information provided by the office of Representative Cannon, the Iraqi delegation was led by the chairman of the Babil Provincial Council and included the Babil province governor, the mayor of Hillah, the chairman of the Babil Human Rights Association, and Babil's regional director for local government development for Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International.
The five-person delegation recently concluded a five-day visit to Cannon's home state of Utah, where they attended workshops on agriculture, irrigation, health care and education at the state's universities, as well as instructional sessions with Utah state and local government and nongovernmental agencies on economic development, women and family initiatives, government services and the judicial system.
They also received a demonstration by municipal officials in Salt Lake City on how the local authorities operate public services and safety systems, as well as city planning and zoning.
In a July 24 statement released by the humanitarian organization New Hope Humanitarian, which took the lead in coordinating the visit, Professor Mayfield said that in Iraq there is "no precedent" for governance "at the state-to-province level." Mayfield, whose expertise is the Middle East, spent a year in Iraq advising local leaders on democratic transition as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development program.
"We are bringing together provincial, state, municipal, community and nongovernmental organizations in a project unique for both its opportunities and its scope," Mayfield said in the statement. "This is the initial visit. Hopefully, there will be a series of visits."
Speaking to a Salt Lake City television station July 25, Mayfield praised the delegation members for their courage in promoting democracy in Iraq. "Every single elected official in Iraq has been targeted by ... extremists," he said.
The Babil delegation members in turn expressed appreciation for American soldiers from Utah who were killed in Iraq and called for unity in the face of terrorism.
"So many people want to convince people that the presence of the United States military in Iraq is some kind of occupation," the human rights center director said. "We wish to thank you and thank God for your participation."
According to the July 24 statement by New Hope Humanitarian, the Iraqi delegation visit was funded by donations from Utah businesses and individuals, and was supported by the U.S. State Department, Representative Cannon, the Economic Development Office of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., and South Jordan City, which is located near Salt Lake City.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)