New Iraqi constitution rejected by Women's Freedom in Iraq Movement Print E-mail
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article300525.ece
The Independent -- London -- Thursday July 21 2005

New Iraqi constitution must follow Islam on women's rights, say Shia
By Kim Sengupta

The new Iraqi constitution should be based on Islamic tenets with restrictions on women's rights on issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance laws, members of a committee drafting the document declared.

Shia members are trying to make the new constitution less secular, insisting that is the wish of the majority of the electorate who voted for Shia-dominated and religion-based parties.

Mariam al-Rayyes, a female Shia member of the committee, said Islam would be a "main source" for legislation in the new constitution and the state religion. "It gives women all rights and freedoms as long as they don't contradict our values. Concerning marriage, inheritance and divorce, this is civil status laws; that should not contradict our religious values." Her comments are seen as the first salvo in the battle over the draft constitution.

Ms Rayyes said that committee members had decided that over the next two four-year parliamentary terms, at least 25 per cent of MPs should be women. After the two terms, there would be no minimum percentage.

Attempts to roll back women's rights during the American occupation were shelved under pressure from women's groups and others. But advocates of a greater role for Islamic law are pushing for a text which could disadvantage women.

Iraq has been operating under a secular 1959 civil status law. This law will still be in effect after the new constitution is drafted.

"We reject the changes prepared on the 1959 law because some Islamic parties want to kidnap the rights of women in Iraq," said Yanar Mohammed, a women's rights activist and head of Women's Freedom in Iraq Movement. "We reject such attempts because women should be full citizens with full rights, not semi-human beings."

The new Iraqi constitution should be based on Islamic tenets with restrictions on women's rights on issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance laws, members of a committee drafting the document declared.

Shia members are trying to make the new constitution less secular, insisting that is the wish of the majority of the electorate who voted for Shia-dominated and religion-based parties.

Mariam al-Rayyes, a female Shia member of the committee, said Islam would be a "main source" for legislation in the new constitution and the state religion. "It gives women all rights and freedoms as long as they don't contradict our values. Concerning marriage, inheritance and divorce, this is civil status laws; that should not contradict our religious values." Her comments are seen as the first salvo in the battle over the draft constitution.

Ms Rayyes said that committee members had decided that over the next two four-year parliamentary terms, at least 25 per cent of MPs should be women. After the two terms, there would be no minimum percentage.

Attempts to roll back women's rights during the American occupation were shelved under pressure from women's groups and others. But advocates of a greater role for Islamic law are pushing for a text which could disadvantage women.

Iraq has been operating under a secular 1959 civil status law. This law will still be in effect after the new constitution is drafted.

"We reject the changes prepared on the 1959 law because some Islamic parties want to kidnap the rights of women in Iraq," said Yanar Mohammed, a women's rights activist and head of Women's Freedom in Iraq Movement. "We reject such attempts because women should be full citizens with full rights, not semi-human beings."

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http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/21/opinion/21thu1.html
The New York Times -- Thursday July 21 2005 
Off Course in Iraq

EDITORIAL:
Most of the Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq have turned out to be wrong. But the one surviving argument for overthrowing Saddam Hussein has been an important one: it was a chance to bring freedom and equality to the citizens suffering under a brutal dictatorship. For those of us holding onto that hope, this week brought disheartening news on multiple fronts.

Most chilling of all are the prospects for Iraqi women. As things now stand, their rights are about to be set back by nearly 50 years because of new family law provisions inserted into a draft of the constitution at the behest of the ruling Shiite religious parties. These would make Koranic law, called Shariah, the supreme authority on marriage, divorce and inheritance issues. Even secular women from Shiite families would be stripped of their right to choose their own husbands, inherit property on the same basis as men and seek court protection if their husbands tire of them and decide to declare them divorced.

Less severe laws would be imposed on Sunni women, but only because the draft constitution also embraces the divisive idea of having separate systems of family law in the same country. That is not only offensive, but also impractical in a country where Sunnis and Shiites have been marrying each other for generations.

Unless these draft provisions are radically revised, crucial personal freedoms that survived Saddam Hussein's tyranny are about to be lost under a democratic government sponsored and protected by the United States. Is this the kind of freedom President Bush claims is on the march in the Middle East? Is this the example America hopes Iraq will set for other states in the region? Is this the result that American soldiers, men and women, are sacrificing their lives for?

Women are not the only ones facing big losses in the new Iraq. The Sunni minority continues to be treated with contempt and suspicion because it enjoyed a privileged position under the old Baathist dictatorship. It took considerable American pressure to get a fair share of Sunnis, as members and consultants, added to the committee working on the new constitution. Two of those appointed Sunnis were assassinated by insurgents this week, and yesterday the others temporarily suspended their participation, citing security concerns.

In considering whether to put their lives on the line again, these Sunnis will not be encouraged by the latest destructive antics of Ahmad Chalabi, the former American favorite who is now a powerful deputy prime minister. Mr. Chalabi, who has long advocated barring even low-level former Baathists from official employment, has now succeeded in disrupting and discrediting the judicial tribunal preparing for the trial of Mr. Hussein. He is pressing for the dismissal of senior staff members, including a top judge, because of former Baathist associations.

The single most crucial requirement for Mr. Hussein's trial is preserving the appearance of impartial justice in the name of the whole Iraqi nation. Mr. Chalabi's actions, which his nominal boss, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, seems powerless to oppose, risk turning the proceedings into a tawdry spectacle of sectarian revenge, which would only fuel divisive and deadly hatreds.

Mr. Bush owes Americans a better explanation for what his policies are producing in Iraq than tired exhortations to stay the course and irrelevant invocations of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most days, the news from Iraq is dominated by suicide bombers and frightening scenes of carnage. Occasionally, the smoke clears for a day or two to reveal the underlying picture. That looks even scarier.