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Wolfowitz Supports Full Equality for Iraqi Women

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2003 – "One can't separate the rights of women from the rights of all people," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a delegation of Iraqi women visiting the Pentagon today.

The 21 women, on a tour sponsored by the World Bank, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the American Bar Association, pushed the deputy secretary to appoint more Iraqi women to official positions in Baghdad.

In his introductory remarks, Wolfowitz spoke about how his various jobs have shaped his outlook. He told the women that he has long been interested in issues of democratic reforms. He said it really started when he was the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs during the Reagan administration in the 1980s. "We were supporting the democratic movement in the Philippines that eventually removed (dictator) Ferdinand Marcos," Wolfowitz said.

He said his next job, as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, also influenced him. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. "Two things impressed me in Indonesia," he said. "One was the extraordinary tolerance for different religions. Indonesia is very proud that Islam is not the state religion even though 90 percent of the population is Muslim." Islam is one of five state religions: Islam, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Hindu and Buddhism.

"The other thing that impressed me about Indonesia is that women played a very important role in the family and in society and in government," he said. "This is something that went back centuries."

Following his service in Jakarta, Wolfowitz served on the board for the National Endowment for Democracy. He specialized in the organization's Middle East programs. He said in that job he met some very impressive Arab democrats. "I think you all know that it's not safe in most Arab countries to be a real democrat," he said. "We hope that will change in time."

Many Arab democrats are women. "In Morocco, I got a chance to see how important the movement for women's rights could be for the movement for everybody's rights," he said.

Wolfowitz noted that in the writing of the Iraqi constitution, women's rights must be guaranteed. "We would very much like to see women achieve a position of full equality in Iraq because they deserve it as human beings, but also because we believe that an Iraq that treats its women correctly will be an Iraq that will treat all correctly.

"Iraq has to belong to Iraqis, and decisions must be made by Iraqis," Wolfowitz said. "But much American blood has been shed, and more is being shed every day to achieve freedom in your country. As a result, the American people have a right to expect certain things from the future Iraqi government, and I believe that fundamental human rights is the most important thing to the American people."

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