Iraqi Women Risk Their Lives to Vote and Run for Office

Rep. Ellen Tauscher
In a few days Iraq will conduct its first-ever democratic election. This moment should be an opportunity to signal support for Iraq’s democratic future and America’s willingness to assist a country that suffered under Saddam Hussein. However, I am disappointed to report that I believe the January 30 elections will be far from ideal.

As co-chair of the congressional Iraqi Women’s Caucus, I traveled earlier this month to Amman, Jordan, where I met 20 women running for office in Iraq. These women could play a pivotal role in their country’s future. On the election ballot, one-third of all names are required to be women, and of the candidates elected, a full quarter must be female. Women will be granted significant and impressive political roles in Iraq, surpassing female representation in Western countries like our own, where only 13 percent of Congress are female.

The women we met represented an array of ideologies, religions, ethnicities and viewpoints. However, the concern shared by all was gravely serious — security.

I learned about the dangers these women face as public candidates: Some have lost children to assassination attempts, others have endured kidnappings and death threats. Virtually all fear for the lives of themselves, their friends and families, at a time when death tolls climb into the double digits each day, and polling sites continue to be bombed.

Months ago, I voiced skepticism that without proper security a census couldn’t be conducted, eliminating the option of representative districts, which has indeed happened. My concerns remain: Who will run the polls, who will count the ballots, and how will we ensure the validity of votes and the safety of voters? To date, only 6,000 of the 150,000 poll workers needed to run January 30 have been trained to staff the planned 7,000 polling sites. Those trained appear to be obvious targets for those bent on derailing the election.

I sought answers from the White House and Pentagon about what would be done to eradicate the insurgency threatening this burgeoning democracy. So far, the president hasn’t changed course or acknowledged his errors, and American forces continue to report shortages in training Iraqi National Guard troops, which is vital to provide future security.

The January 30 elections are the least bad of a host of disastrous options — but they serve as America’s only chance to retain a shred of credibility, and return autonomy to indigenous Iraqis.

I wish my 20 new friends well as they contend for a role in the National Assembly, but I fear that these elections rely too much on the their sheer hopefulness, and too little on a concrete plan for the future.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, co-chair of the Congressional Iraqi Women’s Caucus, serves on the House Armed Services Committee and represents California’s Tenth Congressional District.