Mr. Speaker, earlier this month I traveled with members of the Iraqi Women's Caucus - the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Granger), the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Tauscher) and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Shimkus) - to meet with Iraqi women to discuss election procedures.
We met in Amman, Jordan with women who are candidates for the January 30, 2005 elections in Iraq. It seemed kind of strange that we were there to train them on election procedures - how to campaign and so forth—when certainly Iraq is a very different place with different conditions. The elections are being held in a war zone, and it is very difficult for candidates to get their names out—or to even have their picture out - so that people know that they are candidates on an election list.
Twenty women came to discuss the elections with us. They represented different parties involved in the election—there are over 100 parties participating in all. We were so amazed and so impressed with the caliber of women in the group. They were educated, articulate, well spoken, and at least five of them have PhDs. They are not only running for election, they are actually putting their lives on the line. So many of them have been intimidated, and they have been threatened.
One of the women lost her 17-year-old son along with her bodyguard. Last week there was an assassination attempt on her again made by four insurgents dressed as Iraqi policemen. Fortunately, they did not succeed, and she is still running. Another woman had been kidnapped and held for ransom and was finally released. One woman lost her son. There was also a woman in our group who said five members of her family were killed recently. And yet they are all willing to participate in the elections as candidates because they believe in democracy so much.
Fortunately for the women of Iraq, this is a national constituency election, and it is not split up by districts or provinces, which is what we think of when in terms of elections. There is a list of the different parties, and people will be able to cast one vote for one whole list. Then people that are elected will be included in the government that will write the Constitution. Thankfully, the transitional government decided that women must be included, so they decided that every third name on each list would be a woman's name. As a result, 25 percent of those who are elected will be women.
We had the opportunity to meet with these women for several days, and the longer we met, the more engaged everybody became. We were able to have very frank discussions. So many times when we go over there, it is for a very brief period of time, and you never really got to know the women.
There have also been women that have come over to the US to work with us here. The differences among the women were deep. They were Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, independents and Christians—and it was disheartening to know that they had not really discussed political issues with each other before now. What we were able to do was facilitate a dialogue and help them develop the tools and the skills needed to be able to work together and realize that politics is really an art of compromise. Some of them were very rigid in what they believe should be done in their country, but they were able to see the importance of discussion—that it is very important to have a majority party, but also to have a minority party.
Even the Sunni women that were there - who came in wanting to postpone the elections because their areas are obviously unsafe - still want to participate. What all of the women told us was that they need to have everyone participate - all of the different groups
We were able to discuss these concepts with them, and I think they went away with a positive reinforcement of how to deal with their differences. What we came away with was such a strong feeling of how important these elections are - how they view our democracy and the freedoms that we have - and that they really do want these elections to go forward.
These elections are only the first step towards achieving democracy. They will give them the ability to write their constitution and form an interim government. The constitution will have to be written by August 15, which is a very short time. The interim government will then take effect, and they eventually will have a slate for the election of the permanent officers who will govern beginning in December 2005. They aren't finished, but they are on their way.
One interesting thing that they said to us was, "The U.S., we think of them as occupiers, but please do not leave us until the job is done. We need you there. We really need to have a democracy." And they are willing to give their lives for it.
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate them and wish them well on their election.