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Iraqi female candidates face death threats (FT-FINANCIAL TIMES) By Steve Negus in Baghdad, IRAQ 01/27/05 22:00)Source: http://news.ft.com/cms/s/4d44d952-70ab-11d9-b572-00000e2511c8.html FT} FINANCIAL TIMES FT} FINANCIAL TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Salama al-Khafaji, a candidate for the pan-Shia United Iraqi Alliance, says she will go disguised when she votes in Sunday´s parliamentary elections.

“You know the niqab?” she said, waving her hand over her face to indicate the all-concealing veil favoured by ultra-conservative Sunni. “That´s what I will do.”

Like many candidates running in January 30´s parliamentary elections, Ms Khafaji fears the threat of assassination from insurgents who have vowed to disrupt the vote.

However, while most candidates have chosen to keep their names secret, Ms Khafaji, as one of the few prominent women on the Alliance´s list and in Iraqi politics in general, has broadcast her presence.

In addition to her sectarian cross-dressing, Ms Khafaji intends to vote in an undisclosed location away from her home and take along some of her bodyguards.

Already, her prominent political role, first as a member of the US- appointed Governing Council, as a member of the country´s interim parliament, then as a candidate in elections, has exposed her to several assassination attempts at the hands of insurgents. One of those, in May, cost the life of her 17-year-old son, who came to guard her on a mediation mission with Shia rebels.

At least one other female candidate, as well as at least eight election officials and an uncounted number of campaign activists, have been killed since the election season began. Ms Khafaji, who tops several opinion polls as Iraq´s most popular politician, says she wishes to campaign for the rights of women and children in the next parliament. Her views on Islam in the constitution, that no law should contradict Islamic sharia, place her in the mainstream of Iraq´s Shia Islamist movement.

So does her insistence that such a provision not be forced on an unwilling public undemocratically. Although Iraq´s transitional constitution dictates that a quarter of parliamentary members be women, few of the forthcoming female faces in the country´s government will have Ms Khafaji´s stature. While some female candidates are up-and- coming activists, others are the previously obscure wives and sisters of male powerbrokers.

Despite the male-dominated world of Iraqi politics, Ms Khafaji has one advantage: she has been able to campaign where her male counterparts cannot.

With the streets increasingly dangerous for candidates, Ms Khafaji has turned to a tradition known as the mulla gatherings where women come together in each other´s homes to recite poems in praise of Muslim figures and discuss Islam as a campaign platform.

“You speak about religious things,” she said. “I use them for elections.”

Insurgents waging a bloody campaign to sabotage the election killed 15 Iraqis and a US marine on Thursday and bombed polling stations north of Baghdad, Reuters reports from Baghdad.

Three schools to be used as polling stations were attacked with blast bombs in the southern Iraqi city of Basra last night, interrupting what has been a comparatively quiet run up to the elections in the Shia-dominated south, William Wallis writes from Basra.

British military officials said there were no casualties and no major damage inflicted in the attacks. (© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2005. 01/27/05)


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