WASHINGTON – When three American politicians,including Rep. John M. Shimkus,R-Ill.,met with women candidates before Iraq's Jan. 30 parliamentary election,they learned that what they had come to discuss might not work.
Door to door campaigning would put the women's lives in danger. Some of the women had family members murdered when word got out they were on the ballot. There is no postal system for a direct mail campaign.
Shimkus,who traveled with members of the Iraqi Women's Caucus of the U.S. House,said after he returned that he realized the irrelevancy of demonstrating most American ways of campaigning. But by listening to candidates' concerns at the two-day meeting in Amman,Jordan,some solutions became clear.
“We learned pretty soon in the first day that we needed to make sure that we listen to them and their concerns. They're all pleased Saddam is gone and they're very fearful for the upcoming elections,” Shimkus said.
Shimkus said he told the women that he thanked them for risking their lives,as American's founding fathers had done. He said he read them the U.S. Constitution.
The Americans met with 20 Iraqi women representing 10 political parties. One-third of those elected to the 275 seat assembly must be women.
Shimkus said most of the women wanted the election to take place on schedule. They hope it will end with all parties represented in the new government and be the start of a national dialogue.
“No one has any faith in the ability of a postponed election,” said Shimkus. “In fact,there's fear that you just encourage the insurgency.”
As the new Iraqi assembly writes a permanent constitution for Iraq,Shimkus said,“What we hope that they do is write something that will benefit them,which is the basic fundamentals of the democratic government,which is the rule of law,and equal representation and a government that focuses on human rights freedom and individual liberties.”
Talking about what mattered to them most,such as creating a national dialogue,made it worth the time and the risk,said Rep. Kay Granger,R-Texas,in a telephone interview.
“At the beginning they were very formal,very respectful,very measured in what they said. The second day was much more free flowing because we spent the first day getting to know each other and asked them to go around each one of them and tell their story,” Granger said.
Granger co-founded the caucus with Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher,D-Calif.,and she said the Iraqi women were impressed to see that members of opposing parties could cooperate.
“How in the world can you run for office and not have your name out? It's very hard,and we understand that,” said Granger,who promised to tell Americans about the women's stories.