Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2007; A15
Four years after Iraq's Saddam Hussein was deposed by U.S.-led troops, an international panel charged with recommending invitations for an exclusive meeting of the world's democracies has rendered its verdict on Iraq's fledging democracy.
Not good enough.
The announcement by the advisory committee of the Community of Democracies marked a step back for Iraq. Two years ago, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended the group's biannual meeting in Santiago, Chile, and lauded Iraq's recent elections, Iraq was granted observer status. Under the committee's plan, it would now have the same status as when Hussein ruled Iraq: "not invited."
Afghanistan was a participant two years ago, but the committee said it should only be offered observer status for the body's meeting in Mali in November. Russia also was knocked off the invitation list. The committee said Russian President Vladimir Putin has consolidated power through "decidedly undemocratic measures."
Two key U.S. allies that the administration has praised for progress on democracy -- Egypt and Jordan -- were also downgraded.
The committee said 100 governments could participate, 18 could be observers and 54 should be rejected. The committee took no position on the 16 nations, including the United States, that will make the final decisions on invitations by July.
Ted Piccone, executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project, said an advisory committee was formed to help craft the invitation list because some countries felt previous invitations had been inappropriately altered for political reasons. He said his contacts in the State Department were not happy about the downgrading of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the committee is trying hard to make it as difficult as possible for its recommendations to be rejected.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States "has some differences" with the committee, but "no one will agree to lower the bar for democracies attending this meeting."