Iraqi women spell out their demands to Bremer


IRAQ: During a conference for Iraqi businesswomen yesterday, three women's organisations presented the US chief administrator, Mr Paul Bremer, with a 12-point manifesto, writes Michael Jansen in Baghdad.

The manifesto called for the "prompt withdrawal of foreign forces from the entire country, an end to armed patrols in residential areas, the establishment of local security bodies to impose law and order and an end to body searches of women and girls". The latter are considered to be an offence against Islamic mores.

It rejected the governing council, established by Mr Bremer on July 13th, as a sectarian and sexist body, since members had been selected by their community and there were only three women among the 22 men. The women called for a government formed by an elected parliament. Since women constitute more than half of the Iraqi populace, the women insisted on representation in government on the basis of equality with men. This document was presented by the Society of Muslim Sisters, the Association of Muslim Women and the Muslim Women's League.

Hundreds of women, the vast majority in long coats and headscarves, attended the conference, held at the international conference centre in the heart of the capital. Several of the women said that the primary concern of all Iraqis, particularly women, was security. "We cannot leave our homes without feeling threatened," said one woman.

"The Americans don't understand how things work here," observed a second. "They must put our own police back in our neighbourhoods and on the streets. Patrols by their soldiers in tanks and armoured cars don't do any good. If they don't let our police do their job, the Americans should leave."

Although thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers who were dismissed by the US administration after the war have now returned to work in the police force, the public facility protection force and the army, they do not replace the forces of the former regime. While traffic police have returned to the boulevards and roads of Baghdad, they are too few to discipline drivers who conveniently have forgotten that they must stop for red lights.

Hundreds of police are deployed to protect key institutions. Others have gone under cover to arrest gangs of criminals stealing cars, kidnapping and smuggling drugs and antiquities.

The first major success scored by the Iraqi police was the arrest of the brother of one of the personal bodyguards of the deposed president, Saddam Hussein, who was handed over to US troops in the former leader's home town, Tikrit. The bodyguard himself, Mr Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Musslit, was captured in a raid at the end of last month. The US authorities believe that the two men may be able to provide information on the whereabouts of Saddam.

During the next two years, between 30,000 and 35,000 police officers will be trained and deployed, according to Mr Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, who has been called in as a consultant. "The total number will be between 65,000 and 75,000," he stated.

In the view of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, Mr Ramiro Lopez da Silva, lack of security could frighten potential donors away. Iraq's finance ministry calculates that the country will require $20 billion in 2004 to keep essential services going. But Iraq can count on only $15 billion from oil revenues, and perhaps less, since security problems have reduced oil exports from 900,000 barrels a day in June to 750,000 barrels a day in July.

Mr da Silva said that a UN-organised donors' conference, scheduled for October, would have to make up the $5 billion shortfall.