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Where are they now?

By       Message Marianne Barisonek     Permalink
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In November of 2003 President Bush met with a delegation of Iraqi women.  It might have been just a publicity photo for George Bush but for the women of Iraq it meant much more. They hoped for a chance to bring real change to Iraq.

Kulood Ali Nassir was a women's rights activist in Iraq and part of the 2003 delegation. She's tried to keep track of the women but it hasn't been easy for her. She worked with the provisional government mainly because she was inspired by Fern Holland, a young woman from Oklahoma. Fern told Kulood that she had to believe and work for change. Kulood said, "I had lots of hope for the Iraqi women and I thought we will get them their rights and make them smile but the result was that I lost my smile and lost my home and every thing in my life."-

Because of her work, Kulood was forced to leave Iraq. Her brother was killed. She became a refugee in Amman, Jordan along with her sisters and her father. But she didn't give up hope. She established a program where sponsors from Europe paid the school fees of Iraqi refugee children living in Jordan. The program helped 135 children in more than fifty schools throughout Jordan.

            She was so successful with the program that the government of Jordan told her that she would be deported. Helping children go to school is the sign of a troublemaker. Since she would be killed if she went back to Iraq, Kulood applied for resettlement in the United States. None of her family has yet been able to follow her. Alone in a strange country, she's looking for work. In three months her health care coverage runs out.

            The woman who organized the 2003 delegation, Salwa Ali Oushami, worked closely with Fern Holland. On March 9, 2004 Holland's body, along with that of Salwa Ali Oushami and Robert Zangas,  a press officer, was found riddled with bullets on a desolate stretch of road near Karbala.

            Nassreen Hayder Kader was a member of the Baghdad City Advisory Council when she participated in the 2003 delegation. In 2004 her brother was killed while protecting her. She fled Iraq and Kulood hasn't been able to keep in touch with her.

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            Rajaa Habib Khuzai was a  member of the Iraqi Governing Council. Her tribe has called for her death because she shook hands with George Bush. She's being protected by the Americans.

Another participant, Awatif Aswad, is now living in Australia. Her husband was killed by militia in 2004. Jinan Abdul Rida was working on women's rights in Karbala. After receiving several death threats, she quit.

Siham Hattab Hamdan hasn't had to worry about death threats. She working as a political organizer for the Sadr milita. A group that's been fighting the Americans and terrorizing the Iraqis.

But the idea that women should influence the political landscape in Iraq is not completely dead. 2008 saw a rise in the number of women who became suicide bombers.

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Marianne Barisonek is a free lance journalist in Portland, OR, USA and host at KBOO radio. Her book "Cause and Effect; Understanding Chernobyl" is available on amazon.com

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