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Congresswomen Say Iraqi Women Must Have Role in New Government

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2003 – Visiting U.S. troops, seeing the "progress on the ground," and talking with Iraqi women were the goals of a bipartisan congressional delegation recently returned from Iraq, Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce said here today.

"We wanted to visit with the Iraqi women and understand how the war has affected them and their families," said the congresswoman who led the all-woman delegation, "how we can encourage them to become integrated into their society, and how we can get them involved in all levels of their government."

Pryce said the delegation believes a "truly secular and representative government must include women Iraqis."

Oregon Rep. Darlene Hooley said one of her goals was to talk with the Iraqi women. "And this was an opportunity, as they're looking at forming new kinds of councils throughout the country, to encourage women to be involved in government," she said.

Hooley said she was impressed by the innovative programs troops had started in Mosul, in northern Iraq.

"With a little bit of money and the Iraqis' help, they have made a lot of things work," she said, "whether that's a new asphalt plant, or getting a refinery up and running or instead of putting a pipeline in, carrying oil in tankers over rail lines."

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she was "heartened by the encouragement" the delegation was able to give to the Iraqi women as well as the encouragement they received in return from the Iraqi women.

Ros-Lehtinen said the delegation met with women from all walks of life -- some educated, some not -- yet all had the same goals for life after Saddam Hussein. "They wanted to be part of the future of Iraq," she said. "They're happy their daughters are attending schools now. The last few years of Saddam's brutal dictatorship did not allow them to be educated. And they want their daughters to have a brighter future, to become the doctors and the engineers and the scientists."

The 3,800 programs that U.S. military troops are involved in with Iraqi troops and citizens are "fabulous," said Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington. "And you have to be there to really absorb that perspective," she added.

Dunn said she believes the United States needs to stay in Iraq and continue its work. "We all believe it's the place for us to be. And I believe we're making a huge difference" she said.

"It was an absolutely wonderful trip," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. "It was a trip filled with sobering moments, it was a trip filled with great information, and it was trip where we had the opportunity to see hope like we have hardly every seen before."

Blackburn said a lot of work remains to be done to make Iraq a "safe and productive country."

"We are committed to seeing this through," she added. "We know that every single day, terrorists and the remnant of Saddam's regime has that noose pulled a little bit tighter around them. They're like caged animals, and they're striking back."

However, the common, ordinary life in Iraq is going on, said New York Rep. Sue Kelly.

"There are farmers tilling their fields," she said. "Kids are going to schools. There's food in the stores. I saw a country that's coming back to life. And it's a country that will belong to the Iraqi people, not to a vicious dictator who robbed the wealth of that nation."

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