BRADLEY SENDS SECOND "E-UPDATE" FROM IRAQ
Sunday, April 10, 2005
(Washington, D.C.) - While First District Congressman Jeb Bradley is traveling throughout Iraq, Jordan and Germany with a Congressional Delegation surveying Iraqi reconstruction efforts, he will provide e-mail updates describing his travels. The following is the second update:
Today our Congressional Delegation attended a conference hosted by The Iraqi Women's Educational Institute. The conference included the participation of more than 150 Iraqi women from all over the country. The participants were from all regions, represented different religious groups and were well educated. Most of the women had tragic stories to tell about the oppression under Saddam Hussein, but all were excited about the prospects for democracy in Iraq.
Each participant introduced themselves, and when it was my turn, I said that I was from New Hampshire and that our state motto was "Live Free or Die." This elicited a loud round of applause.
The focus of the conference was on how to participate in a democracy and included segments on interacting with the media, leadership skills, coalition building and role playing. Other topics included fighting corruption, party building, goals of democracy in Iraq, constitutional government, democracy in religion and local government.
During the conference I had the opportunity to speak with two Kurdish women, Narmin Othman, Minister of Women's Affairs and Acting Minister of Health, and Safia al-Suhail, who will be the Iraqi Ambassador to Egypt. Safia al-Suhail was introduced by President Bush during his recent State of the Union address. Eleven years ago, Safia's father had been assassinated by the Hussein regime. Both women felt that the Iraqi security forces are doing an increasingly better job and are more respected and trusted by the Iraqi people. They indicated that the role of women, the role of religion in government, and federalism issues (such as the treatment of minorities like the Kurds) are the biggest challenges facing Iraq and women.
Safia introduced me to a Shiite religious woman who, while she believed in the importance of Islam, also said that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is committed to rights for women. There is a fear that other Shiite religious groups with close ties to Iran are less open-minded than al-Sistani.
I ate lunch with a group of Kurdish women including Ala Talabani, who is the niece of the new President of Iraq, Mr. Jalal Talabani. I told them about my first trip to Iraq and my visit to the Abu Ghraib prison. I told them that I had walked in the torture chambers and had seen the scrawls on the concrete walls of people waiting to die. I told them how I had stood on the door that would open underneath a condemned person with a noose around his or her neck. I also told them what it meant to me to stand in this execution chamber where 80,000 people had died, and how all I could do was pray for the lost souls. As I was describing this, the ten women I was sitting with were crying. The father of one of the women had been executed at Abu Ghraib as well as another woman's brother. It was a very poignant reminder of how depraved and blood-thirsty the Saddam regime had been and how our world is better off with him in prison.
The women that attended this conference displayed unbelievable courage, perseverance and a commitment to a new and free Iraq. These women were inspiring and their stories, powerful. They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They are committed to reaching across religious, tribal, ethnic and cultural divides, and this is a testament to what is happening inside Iraq. It is hopeful and full of challenges, but the prospect of a civil society continues to grow.