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Iraqi Feminist Yanar Mohammed on the Iraq Constitution Vote

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In Iraq, early election results suggest that voters have approved a new US-backed constitution. Millions of ballots are still being counted two days after the referendum which was a simple “Yes” or “No” on whether to accept the document. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Iraq’s government spokesperson, Laith Kubba.

LAITH KUBBA: We know well that either way, if it’s a yes or a no, it’s going to be a tough outcome that we need to handle. We know that there is a level of polarization, and Iraq as one big family, we know if part of the family is not happy, you cannot live in the same house.

AMY GOODMAN: If the constitution passes, Iraqis will vote again in December for a new four-year parliament. Should it fail, Iraq’s politicians will have to go back to the drawing board. In Washington, President Bush congratulated Iraqis on the referendum.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The vote today in Iraq stands in stark contrast to the attitudes and philosophy and strategy of al Qaeda and its terrorist friends and killers. We believe and the Iraqis believe the best way forward is through the democratic process. Al Qaeda wants to use their violent ways to stop the march of democracy, because democracy is the exact opposite of what they believe is right. We’re making progress toward peace. We’re making progress toward an ally that will join us in the war on terror, that will prevent al Qaeda from establishing safe haven in Iraq, and a country that will serve as an example for others who aspire to live in freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday’s vote was largely peaceful as a huge security clamp-down prevented all but a handful of strikes, although five U.S. soldiers and a marine were killed in western Iraq. On Sunday U.S. helicopters and warplanes bombed two villages near Ramadi in western Iraq. The U.S. military said 70 people were killed in the attacks, all of whom were militants, but eyewitnesses are quoted, saying many were civilians. We’re joined now by Iraqi feminist, Yanar Mohammed, Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a group that works to stop atrocities against Iraqi women and defend their rights. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Al-Mousawat, which means equality. She joins us from Toronto. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Yanar.

YANAR MOHAMMED: Hi, Amy. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the vote, the constitution and your response to what look like it has passed?

YANAR MOHAMMED: You know, about the vote, Amy, there are a few people who said yes, against your comments where you said the Shiites were more for a yes vote, and the Kurds are also for a yes vote, because in what they call the Shiite cities, half of the voters of the last elections did not go to this referendum, and this is a very blunt no to this referendum, in the time that it was not counted as votes against the referendum. And also, in the north, in many Kurdish friends that I have, I hear that everybody is not satisfied with this constitution that will force Islamic Sharia on them. So most of the people are against this constitution, but those who had boycotted, those voices will not count. So, it will not be known.

Nobody is satisfied with a referendum that is establishing a constitution of division and oppression of women. All of the women’s groups are against this constitution, but unfortunately, a big majority is voting yes, because they are under the impression that a vote yes will lead to more secure times in Iraq, and it’s not just something that they are assuming, but they were told this over and over again by the puppet government that has been selected by the Americans and also by the occupying forces, that a vote yes is a yes for democracy. It is yes for security, and it’s yes for better times to come. So, most of those who are putting the ballot as yes, they are under the — they are alluded into a vote that they think will bring some security into the country, but nobody, absolutely nobody, is satisfied with a constitution of dividing Iraqi people upon ethnic lines, upon religious lines and also a constitution of turning us women into second-rate citizens.

And you know what, everybody is terrorized because the civil war has already started, and there is no mention in it in Condoleezza Rice’s very optimistic speech. She says that democracy is being achieved, while in Iraq, all we witness is that we have no electricity, we have no security, the civil war has started, and a hideous way of democracy has been imposed on us, a democracy that has put Mullahs, ethnic bigot rulers, I mean, ethnic heads and tribal heads as representatives of Iraqi people. We are outraged by a constitution that gives legality to these tribal and ethnic heads and religious heads, and has turned Iraq into an Islamic country. Everybody is outraged, but if we reached the vote yes, it’s only because people are under the impression that the vote yes will lead us to more secure times.

This is the publicity that they have put all over the media, and women have already been turned into second rate citizens by this constitution. I think next time I’m in Iraq, I’ll have to cover up. I will be forced to veil. I will be forced to wear black, and there is no other way of looking at it.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammed.

YANAR MOHAMMED: The Americans impose democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the constitution specifically address women?

YANAR MOHAMMED: It has made it very clear under the first chapter of the main principles that the Sharia will be the main source, actually, the exact word is the base source of legislation, and any article that contradicts with Islamic Sharia cannot be passed under this constitution. So, we are speaking here about a whole family law that will be based on Sharia, in the time that our previous family law was more progressive. It had a big number of amendments to it. It was one of the best in the Middle East, and it gave women some kind of independence, while under this new family law that will be totally based on Islamic Sharia, women’s rights in marriage, in divorce, in custody and even in access to work and education will be in the hands of the males.

In other words, we are not allowed to independence. We are not allowed to decisions in our lives, and we not speaking here about only appearances of wearing veil or not veil, but we are speaking about women having choices in their lives. We have lost those, and it is by constitution now. There is no other way to it, because no article that contradicts with Islamic Sharia will be allowed in the family law, and there isn’t much elaboration about following the international conventions of ending the discrimination against women to prioritize them over religion. It says very clearly the priority is that the laws will not contradict with Islamic Sharia. So, there you go, all of the women are second-rate citizens in Iraq. There’s another point, Amy.


YANAR MOHAMMED: I would like to elaborate on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

YANAR MOHAMMED: Another point about dividing Iraqi people upon their ethnic ideas and religious ideas, the bigger your minority is, your ethnic minority, the more rights you have. The bigger your religious minority, the more rights you have. So, we are speaking about Iraq being divided into bits and pieces, where in the south the Shiites will be prioritized to any other religion, and in the north, the Kurds will have priority to Arabs and to Turkmens. We are speaking about a very serious declaration of a civil war. This is the constitution that they are forcing Iraqi people to vote yes for. And how did they do that? Because they are telling us this is the only way of achieving security in Iraq. This is George Bush’s hideous democracy in Iraq now, and they have forced us into it.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammad, I want to thank you for being us with, Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a group that works to defend women there, to defend their rights. She was speaking to us from Toronto, who lives much of the time in Baghdad, Iraq.

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