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Women in Iraq: Background and Issues for U.S. Policy

Summary

The issue of women’s rights in Iraq has taken on new relevance, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the formation of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and subsequent U.S.-led efforts to reconstruct Iraq. In the past year, the Bush Administration has stated its interest in ensuring that Iraqi women are involved in the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. There has been a widening debate regarding the extent to which the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts have been able to assist women in Iraq and to incorporate them in plans for a future government.

In recent months, Iraqis, in general, and Iraqi women, in particular, have complained of a volatile security situation which has contributed to a deterioration in their status. According to some observers, this political uncertainty, coupled with a rise in popular religious activism, has called into question the future involvement of Iraqi women in nation building. At the same time, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that there has been extensive progress in the reconstruction efforts targeting women’s education and the inclusion of women in local governance. Others note that the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) signed by the Iraqi Governing Council in March 2004 includes many provisions that advocate women’s rights and their inclusion in a future Iraqi government.

The first section of this report provides an overview of Iraqi women’s situation under Baathist rule (1968-2003). The second section discusses the position of women since the overthrow of the Baathist regime, examining the role of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). A third section highlights some of the U.S.- led reconstruction efforts targeting women in Iraq. The fourth section outlines significant issues affecting current and future U.S. policy on women in Iraq, focusing on the possible outcomes of a volatile security situation, of indigenous challenges to women’s rights, such as the rise of Islamic conservatism, and of the transition to Iraqi sovereignty. A final section will discuss congressional interest in this topic. This report will be updated as events warrant.

Related CRS products include CRS Report RL31339, Iraq: U.S. Regime Change Efforts and Post-Saddam Governance, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report RS21820, Iraq: June 30, 2004, Transition to Sovereignty, by Kenneth Katzman and Jennifer Elsea; CRS Report RL31833, Iraq: Recent Developments in Reconstruction Assistance, byCurt Tarnoff; and Iraq Reconstruction and Supplemental Proposal (in the CRS Foreign Operations Appropriations Briefing Book), by Rhoda Margesson and Curt Tarnoff.

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