Raja Habib Khuzai

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Dr. Raja Habib Dhaher Khuzai, described as Iraq's "top female politician", was elected to the Iraqi National Assembly "on the ticket of the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shi'ite cleric-backed coalition that won about 48 percent of the more than 8 million ballots cast in the historic" January 30, 2005, elections, the first held in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [1][2]

Dr. Khuzai, a secular Shiite and "southern tribal leader," was a founding member and "one of only three women serving on the 25-member Governing Council appointed" by the Coalition Provisional Authority in July 2003. The Council was dissolved in June 2004. [3][4][5]

Dr. Khuzai "studied and lived in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, before retuning to Iraq in 1977." She "holds degrees in obstetrics and gynecology from the University of London and for several years was director of a hospital in the southern city of Diwaniah, while teaching at the the local medical college. President of the Women’s Organization in Diwaniah, founder of the Women’s Health Center in Baghdad and founder of the Widow’s Care Organization, Dr. Khuzai has also worked to develop a women’s health strategy for post-war Iraq. Dr. Khuzai has seven children and several grandchildren." [6][7]

Khuzai's name is also found as Raja Habib al-Khuzaai and Raja Habib Kuzai.

Iraqi Governing Council

Dr. Khuzai, the only woman appointed to the new Iraqi cabinet July 14, 2003, said "Women have no rights here in Iraq, so I want to work for them ... We will take this one step, one foot at a time."

Dr. Khuzai told the Washington Post "that she 'helped deliver thousands of Iraqi babies, and now I am taking part in the birth of a new country and a new rule based on women's rights, humanity, unity, and freedom.'"

The New York Times reported in September 2003, that Iraqi Governing Council members had been "clashing with the US over the issue of security."

The Times reported that Dr. Raja Habib Khuzai had been "pleading for days with American officials to provide her with security," but had "failed to help her." Dr. Khuzai said that "the US originally provided her with bodyguards, but ended up taking them away" and, at the time, "her only source of protection [was] from her brother and three other men who have no training," whom she was paying "out of her own pocket."

In the September 14, 2003, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Borzou Daragahi reported that Dr. Khuzai said she was "slowly becoming disillusioned and feeling betrayed by the American occupation force that replaced the Iraqi dictator.

"Almost single-handedly," Daragahi wrote, "the British-educated obstetrician twice in 12 years saved her children and women's hospital south of Baghdad from looters and vandals. So she's no pushover.

"Yet this secular 57-year-old mother of seven once tried to quit the Governing Council, frustrated by the pace of the 25-member council's work and her lack of say in its proceedings. It is dominated by powerful Kurds, Shiites, U.S.-backed exiles and men ... [but her] husband and the Baroness Emma Nicholson, a human rights activist, talked her out of quitting. Plus she felt obligated to stay, if only to speak up for women. 'Many women congratulate me by telephone or send me letters or visit my home ... They encourage me to raise women's voice. ... It's hard,' she said. 'They don't respect women. They don't listen to women.'"

"The U.S.-led civilian authority picked her to be on the Governing Council, the interim Iraqi government that is assigned to design a new Iraqi political system. The council's work has been slow and stressful. The meetings are long. The speeches are dull."

"'Our biggest problem is security,' she said. 'We need to have a secure country. We told them you don't know the Iraqi people. We know them. If you give the security issue to us. We'll solve it.'"

While in Washington in 2005, Dr. Khuzai "told women members of Congress that she had submitted a report about the frustrations of poorly-paid doctors to the other members of the council. Ninety days later, she said, she still couldn't persuade the majority of the male members to look at the report--or, indeed, even talk to her. 'It is very frustrating,' she told the U.S. legislators. 'We're pretty much ignored.'" [8]

Iraqi National Election, January 30, 2005

Boston Globe, February 14, 2005:

"Alliance leaders have pledged to shut out Allawi and name one of their own as prime minister, but Allawi thinks he still may have a chance as a compromise candidate if they cannot agree, and failing that is jockeying for some other prominent post.
"Dr. Raja Khuzai, who is part of Allawi's list, said they will try to get some members of the alliance to defect and form a coalition with them."

Chicago Tribune, February 14, 2005:

"The outcome was a stinging blow for Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite U.S.-backed interim prime minister, whose slate won only 13.7 percent of the vote despite the huge TV exposure afforded by his job and the biggest campaign spending by far of any candidate.
"Allawi is disappointed and attributes his poor showing to the endorsement of the Shiite coalition by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite religious authority, said Raja Khuzai, an Allawi aide.
"'Most of the people in the south are very simple and follow what Sistani tells them,' she said. 'The educated people know that Sistani is a cleric, a religious man just like the pope, and he shouldn't be involved in politics.'"

Washington Times, March 16, 2005:

"Mr. Allawi's party, which had expected to do better in the Jan. 30 elections, likely will abstain from taking any government posts and act as an opposition, said Raja Khuzai, another member of Mr. Allawi's coalition."

The war in Iraq

Speaking to journalists at Washington's Foreign Press Center, November 19, 2003, Dr. Khuzai said:

... that "due to the oppression of the Ba'thists, 'every honest Iraqi was happy with the war and welcome[d] the war. ... You don't know a dictatorship unless you live in it.'"
"... there was some media exaggeration about the security problems in the country, including the situation of women. '[E]verything is back to normal,' she said, with colleges and schools open, and hospitals running 24 hours a day."
"... that besides improving security, job creation was also an immediate concern. She suggested creating a program similar to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that employed hundreds of thousands of Americans during the depression period of the 1930's."
"[and] called for microcredit and microlending programs for small Iraqi businesses."

Meeting President Bush

At a March 12, 2004, White House gathering on the progress of global women's human rights, President Bush said:

"I want to thank my friend, Dr. Raja Khuzai, who's with us today. This is the third time we have met. The first time we met, she walked into the Oval Office -- let's see, was it the first time? It was the first time. The door opened up. She said, 'My liberator,' and burst out in tears -- (laughter) -- and so did I. (Applause.)
"Dr. Khuzai also was there to have Thanksgiving dinner with our troops. And it turned out to be me, as well. Of course, I didn't tell her I was coming. (Laughter.) But I appreciate that, and now she's here again. I want to thank you, Doctor, for your hard work on the writing of the basic law for your people. You have stood fast, you have stood strong. Like me, you've got liberty etched in your heart, and you're not going to yield. And you are doing a great job and we're proud to have you back. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)"

The Iraqi Constitution and Women's Rights

Feminist Daily News Wire, January 8, 2004:

"Dr. Raja Khuzai, a female member of the Governing Council, states that men avert their eyes when she talks and the leaders ignore her reports. They even wait until the female council members have left the room to make important votes, reports the Rocky Mountain News."

Boston Globe, June 22, 2004:

"Dr. Raja Khuzai, one of three women on the now-defunct 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, advocated the appointment of at least one woman to the executive quartet designed by UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, composed of a prime minister, president, and two vice presidents. The Iraqi interim constitution recommends that women fill at least a quarter of the seats in the future National Assembly, and Khuzai reasonably expected the executive branch to reflect the same 25 percent goal. 'This is the only way we can encourage women to participate,' she said. 'Otherwise they'll think it's only promises.'"
"'This is the future of the new Iraqi government - it will be in the hands of the clerics,' said Dr. Raja Kuzai, a secular Shiite member of the Assembly. 'I wanted Iraqi women to be free, to be able to talk freely and to able to move around.'

UPI, February 16, 2005:

"For Mrs. Khuzai, a requirement that the new assembly be 30 percent female means that human rights will stay at the forefront. Talk of religious law, or Shariah, being adopted in Iraq will be moderated by female assembly members, she said, who don't want to lose inheritance and divorce rights afforded them under secular laws.
"'We don't want to go to Islamic rules,' Mrs. Khuzai said. 'It is our role in the assembly to follow this.'"
"Mrs. Khuzai, who is a medical doctor, also wants to make sure girls and women get just as much access to free health care and education as men do.
"'This is my dream as a physician in Iraq. I know how much women have suffered,' Dr. Khuzai said. 'In the future, I want women's health centers in every governorate in Iraq, with cancer screenings and other things that have been neglected.'"

Times Online (UK), March 20, 2005:

"Aquila al-Hashimia, a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council, was killed and her colleague Raja Khuzai received death threats after supporting women’s rights."

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, August 3, 2005:

"Dr Raja’a al-Khuza’ee, a member of the constitution drafting committee, said when she recently insisted on the retention of the 25 per cent quota for women lawmakers, her fellow female parliamentarians on the body refused to back her.
"'This issue has turned into a joke,' she said. 'I didn’t get any support from women and was even more disappointed with the liberal men.'"

New York Times, August 24, 2005:

"'This is the future of the new Iraqi government - it will be in the hands of the clerics,' said Dr. Raja Kuzai, a secular Shiite member of the Assembly. 'I wanted Iraqi women to be free, to be able to talk freely and to able to move around.'"
"'I am not going to stay here,' said Dr. Kuzai, an obstetrician and women's leader who met President Bush in the White House in November 2003."
"Secular Iraqi leaders fear that the Iraqi law governing family relations that is currently on the books, passed in 1959, will be abolished, and that Shariah law will dominate the lives of ordinary Iraqis. 'It sounds like the civil law will be canceled,' Dr. Kuzai said. 'We had the best family law in the Middle East. And we'll go back to the clerics.'"


December 2003

Dr. Raja Khuzai was then a "57-year-old mother of seven" who provided flashbacks "to just before the first Persian Gulf War. As an obstetrician, she was installed in 1990 as the first female hospital director in Iraq, taking over a maternity hospital in Diwaniya. It wasn't long until the town was under siege. ... After the U.S.-led coalition forced Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in early 1991, there was a short-lived rebellion against Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party regime in Diwaniya. Saddam sent the Republican Guard to squash it.

"The town was bombarded, and the hospital was caught in a war zone. ... Khuzai was the only doctor left standing at the hospital. With no electricity and the anesthetist incapacitated, she had to work solo taking care of a flood of women in labor. ... 'I did 22 cesarean sections by candlelight,' Khuzai said in a telephone interview. 'I wasn't thinking. It just comes from the heart. I have to save my patients.'

"There is a big difference between that solo struggle in 1991 and her current work challenging traditionalists on the male-dominated Iraq Governing Council, she said. ... 'At that time, I was alone in the theater,' she said of 1991. 'Now, we are many.'

"Since she was installed this spring on the 25-member council, Khuzai has emerged as one of the most outspoken and most closely watched female figures in the new Iraq. But she says she would not be as confident or defiant if not for an hour-long, closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill in November.

"She and fellow governing council member Songul Chapouk led a delegation of Iraqi women to Washington, D.C., meeting with President Bush and scores of top U.S. officials. Their message was simple: If Iraq is going to be reborn as a true democracy, women must play an equal part."

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