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Woman Member of Iraqi Gov. Council Meets US Lawmakers in Washington - 2003-09-24


Two members of the cabinet appointed by Iraq's Governing Council have been making the rounds in Washington, meeting with members of Congress, U.S. officials, and the media. One of them, the only woman serving in the Iraqi cabinet, spent time Wednesday with a group of U.S. congresswomen.

Nasreen Mustafa Sadiq Barwari is Minister of Public Works in the 25-member cabinet appointed by Iraq's governing council which is, in turn, overseen by the U.S.-led administration in Iraq.

An architectural engineer who also holds a degree from Harvard University in public administration, she is a Kurd, and a few years ago was helping with resettlement in Iraq's Kurdish region.

The war that ousted Saddam Hussein, she said, has given Iraqis an opportunity to rebuild, after three decades of mismanagement and brutal dictatorship. "Generally, people are optimistic (and) have hope. Because as I said this was a window of opportunity that was created that never existed before. And things are happening," he said. "People are getting their salaries, and even getting more than what they used to get under the former regime. The services have been restored to pre-war levels so what people lived under [for] the past 10 years has been now restored to that level."

Nasreen Barwari acknowledges that security is a problem. When she is in Iraq, she is accompanied by U.S. marines acting as bodyguards.

Her appearances in Washington came just a few days after a female member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Aquila al-Hashimi, was shot and seriously wounded in an attack in Baghdad. But the risks that come with her position have clearly not intimidated Ms. Barwari. She said now that the "layer of fear" Iraqis lived under has been removed, what they need from the United States and others, is development capital to restore basic services, security and the oil industry.

Iraqi women, she says, can make important contributions to speed up the process of rebuilding Iraq after years of neglect by Saddam Hussein. "What I hope to achieve by the end of 2004, in my capacity as Minister of Public Works, is really to lay the basic infrastructure so other economic activities, such as small business development and large development projects can start," she said. "But in the meantime, a lot of activities could be done, especially on the woman side. We need to empower women economically. We have the skill. Women have the basic education but they lack the training."

Within a year, Nasreen Barwari hopes her country can be well on its way to becoming what she calls "a workable Iraq." This she defines as a politically stable center of democracy which promotes peace and prosperity with its neighbors.

As for international assistance, she believes it would be best if Iraqis could sit together with the United States and its European allies in helping Iraq move toward democratic self-rule.

And she says Iraqis are capable of helping making that process much shorter, as she puts it, than many cynical parties may think it will take.