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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05BAGHDAD2799
2005-07-02 08:44:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Baghdad
Cable title:  

TIME TO BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES OVER SHARI'A

Tags:   KWMN  PHUM  PGOV  IZ 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 002799 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/02/2025
TAGS: KWMN PHUM PGOV IZ
SUBJECT: TIME TO BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES OVER SHARI'A


Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBERT S. FORD.
REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 002799

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/02/2025
TAGS: KWMN PHUM PGOV IZ
SUBJECT: TIME TO BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES OVER SHARI'A


Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBERT S. FORD.
REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).


1. (C) SUMMARY. At the July 30 Gender Working group,
an Embassy-sponsored forum for women representing all
sectors of society to express their views, the only
clear consensus among participants was of the pressing
need to educate the Iraqi public -- especially women -
- regarding their rights and the role of the
constitution. Participants generally agreed that a
quota system is necessary to ensure adequate
representation of women in the government, but some
advocated limiting that system. Members of the
women's branch of Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) attended the meeting for
the first time, generating a heated discussion when
they advocated Shari'a as the main source for the
constitution. Conservative Muslims, non-Muslims, and
secularists did not find common ground on the extent
to which Shari'a should be a source for the
constitution. END SUMMARY.

--------------
LITTLE CONSENSUS ON CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES
--------------


2. (C) Iraqi women participated in a heated
discussion of the constitution during the weekly
Embassy-sponsored Gender Working Group meeting. This
group has evolved as a forum for women representing
all sectors of society to express their views and
listen to the views of others in a mutually respectful
environment. Comprising Sunnis, Shi'a, Kurds,
Turkmen, and Christians, as well as Islamic
conservatives and secularists, the group agreed on
only one issue during this meeting -- the need for
education and outreach at the grassroots level.
Former Governing Council member Songul Chapook told
the group that, during a recent meeting in Kirkuk she
realized that most women are 'ignorant' not only
regarding the constitution, but also with respect to
their basic rights. (COMMENT: The need for outreach
has been a common theme in these meetings, and is
echoed by conservative and liberal elements alike. At
the June 23 meeting, Sadr City Council member Siham
Hattab emphasized that the public's lack of knowledge
about such issues as federalism and women's rights

means that they will rely exclusively on their
religious leaders or, in the case of women, their male
relatives. There are women-oriented outreach programs
underway through USIP, NDI, America's Democratic
Foundation, and other USAID grantees. The challenge
is to get these programs to extend more broadly down
to the grassroots level sooner rather than later, if
possible. END COMMENT.)


3. (C) Although the women did not all agree about the
need for a quota system to ensure adequate
representation by women in the government, the
majority said it is necessary to include such a system
in the constitution. The real bone of contention
regarding this issue, however, was its implementation.
Some suggested that the quota system supports the
"quantity over quality" approach, while others
insisted that it is a way for women -- while a cadre
of competent representatives is developed -- to have a
voice that they would not otherwise have. Many
favored including a quota provision in the
constitution, but with specific time limitations.


4. (C) Participants reached partial consensus that
the constitution should be based on international
human rights standards and accord all Iraqis -- men
and women alike -- due process and equal status before
the law. Several women suggested that the
constitution should guarantee women social security
benefits, unemployment compensation, and medical
insurance, while others argued that it should
guarantee only the most basic rights and legislation
could be enacted afterwards to address issues such as
these.

--------------
SCIRI SCARE
--------------


5. (C) The discussion of the relationship between
religion and state was the most heated. Secular and
non-Muslim participants argued that basing the
constitution on Shari'a would limit the rights of non-
Muslims in general and women in particular. The
conservatives countered that it is not Shari'a that
limits women's rights. Rather, they argued, it is
'tradition' that plays a larger role in impeding
women's rights.


6. (C) Thekra Fadhel and Ethar Hussain, both members
of Shaheed Al Mihrab, which is SCIRI's women's branch,
argued strongly and intractably for a constitution
based on Shari'a, saying that "God is the source of
all things" and insisting that it is only right that
the country's legal foundation should be based on this
concept. The SCIRI women generated strong debate,
eliciting negative reactions from almost every other
participant -- to include representatives from the
Iraqi Women's Islamic League.


7. (C) COMMENT: The SCIRI representatives have not
previously attended meetings of the Gender Working
Group. Their apparent objective was to influence this
group and use it as a platform for conservative
policies. According to Shilair Rasheed Mohammed
(Kurdish list - hardly a disinterested party), the
conservative agenda is to push the "Iranian model."
She told PolFSN on June 29 that, when other
constitutional models are referenced during
Constitution Committee meetings, the List 169
delegates invariably raises the Iranian model. END
COMMENT.

--------------
CONSTITUTION COMMITTEE MEMBERS SILENT
--------------


8. (C) Despite the uproar caused by the SCIRI women,
Constitution Committee members Munira Abdul and Narjis
Majeed Amin, both from the Kurdish list, had little
reaction to any of the discussion. Their input was
limited to a brief overview of articles in Kurdistan's
law that support women's rights. While they expressed
openness to listening to the women's recommendations,
they had little to add to the overall discussion.

--------------
COMMENT
--------------


9. (C) The Gender Working Group meetings have
provided Post with invaluable insight into the minds
of Iraqi women of all orientations. Participation has
grown from less than a dozen women to standing room
only. Clearly Iraq's women want and need a forum for
addressing those issues of concern to them. Today's
meeting went far to clarify the thinking of these
women relative to the constitution. It is important
to note that, even these women -- who tend to be more
politically engaged and educated -- struggle with what
a constitution is and can actually do for them. One
must wonder then, what the average, less-educated
woman understands about the political and
constitutional development processes. At a minimum,
it highlights the need for aggressive outreach and
education campaigns.


10. (C) Most striking was the reaction of the working
group participants to the statements made by the SCIRI
women. The room simply erupted before they even
finished speaking. Many women were almost out of
their seats as they vocally and dramatically argued
the extent to which Shari'a should play a role in the
constitution. There were no pretenses at politeness.
It was no easy feat to calm the group, and it was
clear that there would be no consensus on this issue.
Also palpable was the fear of the majority regarding
the influence the List 169 views on religion and state
would have on their future rights. As one observer so
aptly put it, "If this group is representative of the
Iraqi people on this issue, it is time to batten down
the hatches." Kurdish women, including those who are
not secular, tend to be some of the most vocal
supporters of women's rights. The apparent reluctance
of prominent Kurdish women such as Munira Abdul and
Narjis Majeed Amin, to say anything substantive on
women's issues was noticeable. If Iraqi women who
espouse non-Islamist views do not develop strong,
articulate leadership, it will be harder for them to
push back against Islamist conservatives. END
COMMENT.


11. (U) REO HILLA, REO BASRA, REO MOSUL, and REO
KIRKUK, minimize considered.


Satterfield