Iraqi Candidate: Amal Kashif al-Ghettah

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For Iraq's parliamentary elections Thursday, there are hundreds of candidates in each province. Author and women's rights advocate Amal Kashif al-Ghettah is running on the slate headed by Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Political campaigning stopped today in Iraq. It's a chance for voters to reflect before tomorrow's election. The pause came too late for one candidate who was killed by gunmen on Tuesday.

MONTAGNE: The violence did not stop more than 1,000 Muslim clerics from instructing their followers to vote. The clerics are Sunni Muslims, members of the group that has backed the insurgency. In a moment, we'll hear what some Sunnis are thinking now. First, NPR's Peter Kenyon profiles one of the many candidates, an author and a women's rights advocate.

PETER KENYON reporting:

In her book-lined study in Baghdad, Amal Kashif al-Ghettah(ph) greets a visitor as she sips her tea and leafs through a book titled "European Policy." Some of the books are her own. She's written 15 in all, ranging from religious non-fiction to novels. Now at the age of 60, she's one of the top three candidates on the Baghdad slate fielded by Ahmed Chalabi when he split from the largest Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance. Amal is less interested in Chalabi's political maneuvers than in helping Iraqis to stand on their own feet after decades of oppression followed by a military occupation. She wasn't sorry to see Saddam go. He threw her in jail, she says, for refusing to work for him spying on foreign diplomats. Amal says she suffered no physical abuse.

Ms. AMAL KASHIF al-GHETTAH (Political Candidate, Iraq): (Through Translator) The abuse was mainly psychological. They used to say, `Who are you? What are you? You are nothing. We can do anything to you.' This was in 1979 under Saddam. I couldn't stand it.

KENYON: Her father, a religious scholar, managed to get Amal out of prison, but she remained under house arrest for 19 years. When she got out, her son was arrested and tortured. During her confinement, Amal says she resisted in one of the few ways she could by becoming a writer.

Ms. al-GHETTAH: (Through Translator) For 19 years, I had nothing to do but read and write, so all of my 15 books were written during these years. One of these stories I wrote during a break on a highway is about Iraqi women and all the violence they face as wives, as mothers.

KENYON: The plight of homeless women is a major cause for Amal. She can address the issue in broad policy-making terms when women are left illiterate. With no means to provide for their children, those children wind up on the street instead of in school, dragging down the neighborhood in a cycle of violence. But she can also provide searing street-level examples from her own visits with Iraq's homeless. She recounts one trip to the Baghdad neighborhood of Kadem(ph), home to a Shiite shrine.

Ms. al-GHETTAH: (Through Translator) We saw them sleeping in the cardboard boxes, and I spoke to one woman. Her house collapse in the war, killing her mother and father, so she came to Kadem near the shrine thinking she would be safe. She was surviving by digging through the garbage for soda cans she could sell. One day she said she was raped terribly by 10 men. She was afraid to tell us that. The things we saw were heartbreaking.

KENYON: Amal's writings and work on behalf of women prompted invitations from several women's groups and other advocacy organizations. She says eyebrows always go up when she walks in dressed in the full-length traditional black abaya. Amal, who grew up in a very conservative Shiite family in Najaf and was married at 14, says she enjoys breaking the stereotype of the religious Muslim woman.

Ms. al-GHETTAH: (Through Translator) And when they asked me about the abaya, I tell them this abaya was worn by the woman farmer, the worker, the mother who went to Abu Ghraib with food for her son and was beaten by the prison police. It's a major part of my identity. One mistake that Islamists make is thinking religion should control the state and some liberals think religion should be completely separated from the state. I disagree with both of them. There should be cooperation, not control. I believe there are three points of power: authority, knowledge and money. And authorities should not use knowledge or money to control people. That means the universities must be independent, the judiciary must be independent, and public finance must be transparent. When these things are gathered under one political authority, the result is dictatorship.

KENYON: Amal Kashif al-Ghettah is running for a Baghdad seat in the Iraqi parliament.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News.

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