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Women And The Iraqi Constitution

A panel of Iraqi women, headed by Azhar al-Shakley, Iraq's women's affairs minister, have issued a statement calling for women's rights to be a part of the country's new constitution. The women say they want Iraq to commit itself to international agreements protecting women and children's rights.

Others on the women's panel include Ahlam Letta, a law school professor, Pascale Warda, a former environment minister, and Safia al-Souhail, Iraq's ambassador to Egypt. The participants say that if Islam is mentioned in the constitution, it should be cited as "a source" of legislation, not "the source."

Manal Omar is regional representative in Iraq of Women for Women International, a private organization. She told a reporter, "Many Iraqi women are outraged by the idea that [the current draft of the] constitution refers to Islamic Shariah [law] as the primary legal source, especially as it relates to the personal-status law."

Under Shariah, women receive smaller inheritances than men and have fewer rights if they divorce. "Many women are not against Islamic law in the constitution," says Ms. Omar, "but feel that safeguards need to be put in place with regard to interpretations and applications of an overarching Islamic Shariah."

Also of concern, says Ambassador al-Souhail, are worries of a "decrease of the percentage of women's representation in the decision making centers, which is currently twenty-five percent."

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has urged all sides to compromise in the ongoing Iraqi constitutional process:

"If one looks across the cases of successful constitutions, a key commonality was enlightened leadership, leaders who took the long view and understood that compromise that delivers the benefits of stable and effective governance is more valuable than seeking a maximum outcome of the expensive of political unity."

But equality for women, says Ambassador Khalilzad, "is a fundamental requirement for Iraq's progress."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.