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India Carving a Place in World of Foreign Relations - 2004-02-16

India is one of dozens of countries participating in the reconstruction of Iraq after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein government last year. Its efforts are not limited to the bricks-and-mortar rebuilding of a devastated country, however, but carry over into the world of foreign relations.

They are skills every diplomat should have: the nuances of protocol, how to argue without offending, how to organize a multi-lateral conference, how to keep your computer secure, how to talk to the press. And these are some of the tools of the trade the Indian foreign service is teaching to 14 Iraqi diplomats now in New Delhi for an eight-week training course.

All of the students worked in Iraq's Institute of Foreign Service under former dictator Saddam Hussein, who was deposed by U.S. led forces last April.

At a reception in New Delhi, most of them say they are keenly aware of how much the world of Iraqi diplomacy has changed, and how much it will continue to evolve. Yassir Assadi, one of the students, speaks the so-called language of diplomacy, French. He says Iraqi diplomats are more free now. Before, everything was always difficult, if not impossible. But now it's good: there are differences, and there is "democracy in diplomacy."

India has pledged $30 million to help rebuild Iraq following the war, providing such typical items as medicine, food and infrastructure.

Organizers say the unusual diplomatic training course came about when Iraqi administrators asked India if it could help its foreign service cope with what will be an expanded role in the new Iraq.

So far, it appears the Iraqis are coping well. Santosh Kumar, the dean of India's Foreign Service Institute, says he was concerned that the isolation and the dictatorial nature of the Saddam Hussein regime would produce young diplomats who were ideologues, unable to see other points of view.

But he says those fears have proven to be largely unfounded. "I'm pleasantly surprised that all of them are, at least in terms of their instincts, they are much more eclectic, much more aware of things," says Mr. Kumar. "But of course there are gaps in the knowledge about recent events and about how they see it."

So far, none of these young diplomats has held a foreign posting, but they feel their experience as young diplomats in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, counts for something.

"We want to build a new diplomacy of Iraq, a new relation with the others, [but also] to get benefit of the old experience which we inherited by that regime," says Zuhair Saad, a third secretary at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. "We mustn't neglect this period of experience."

The diplomats say they are realistic about the challenges facing post-war Iraq, where terrorist bombings are a common occurrence, where much of the infrastructure is in ruins, and where foreign soldiers of the U.S.-led coalition are likely to remain for two more years.

Despite the difficulties, 28-year-old Hadeel Talal Jabar says she considers it her duty as an Iraqi to work for the diplomatic service. "I do anything… to show [to others] the important things of my country. To show the truth of my country," she says. "I show the truth or interests of my country."

That type of commitment and enthusiasm by Iraq's up-and-coming diplomats may help end the country's years of isolation, and allow it to fend for itself on the world stage.