Cablegate: Nominations for 2009 Secretary's Women of Courage

DE RUEHGB #3443/01 3021535
O 281535Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 99729

1. (SBU) Per Reftel, Embassy Baghdad is pleased to submit its
list of nominees for the Secretary's 2008 Award for
International Women of Courage, keyed to the priorities in
the reference. Embassy Baghdad is submitting four (4)
nominees, but understands that only three of them will be
considered by G/IWI. All nominees have been informed of the
Ambassador's intention to nominate them and are available to
travel in March 2008. A list of nominees in rank order

2. (SBU) First Priority: Saja Qaddoori Azeez
Date of Birth: 20 August, 1960
Country of Birth: Iraq
Citizenship: Iraqi
Job Title/association: Member of the Diyala Provincial
Council (PC) and Member of the PC Security Committee
Address: 22 Almualmein District, Baqubah, Iraq
Telephone: 964 (0)7906842347
Passport #: G1191845

Justification: Saja Qaddoori Azeez may not be a very tall
woman but she is certainly strong and has a habit of always
smiling. Two years ago, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) kidnapped her
husband. He was a law student at Diyala University and her
friends say he was very proud of his wife and the work she
was doing to support women in the province. Saja opened a
woman's center in downtown Baqubah. Everyday when her
husband left the University, he would call her at the woman's
center and let her know he was on his way to pick her up.
One day he called her to say he was on his way but he never
arrived at the center. Very few members of the Provincial
Council know very many details about the kidnapping of her
husband. Most say they have not had any word about him in
two years and it is very likely he was killed. When you meet
Saja, it is nearly impossible to know she carries such a
great burden from the grief of the loss of her husband. She
throws herself into projects and is the only woman in the
Provincial Council to sit on what is considered a hard
science committee, security.

3. (SBU) Saja champions the necessity of women in the field
of security especially in Diyala province, which has the
highest number of female suicide bombers of any other
province in Iraq. At a conference sponsored by the
Multi-National Division North in Irbil in early June, Saja
cornered an American General to insist he help get more women
into the field of security. The General saw Saja again at
the first graduation of female Iraqi Police last month and he
reminded her that she had pushed for more women and he was
trying to help deliver that. Saja says the most important
field which needs women in Diyala is the field of
intelligence. She says they need women intelligence officers
because that is the only way to break the AQI recruitment of
females to carry out suicide attacks.

4. (SBU) Saja was very close with her father who raised her
to value independence and to fight for fairness and
righteousness. Both of her parents have passed away now and
her sister helps Saja by watching her son while Saja goes to
work. The Diyala Provincial Council has seen eight members
assassinated since 2005 and two of those were women but that
does not prevent Saja from consistently attending public
events and encouraging women to speak out for their rights.
Saja also lost a brother who was executed by Saddam Hussein
in 1990 but her family did not find out until after the fall
of Saddam. Saja and her family had always distanced
themselves from the Ba,ath party and Saddam,s regime. She
used to work as a high school teacher and taught Arabic, and
she was the only faculty member of the 55 teachers who was
not a member of the Ba,ath party. She says many people
treated her unfairly because she was a Shia and a member of
the Independent party.

5. (SBU) Saja says after the fall of Saddam,s regime, she
set her mind to becoming the first female member of the
Baqubah City Council. There were five seats within the
Council,s cabinet and only one of those seats was reserved
for a female member. Saja became the first and only female

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member of the Baqubah City Council in 2004 and quickly saw
the need to extend greater support and recognition to the
women of Baqubah. She organized the first Women's Conference
and had over 150 women attend from all over Iraq. The
following year the provincial elections were held and Saja
won a seat on the Provincial Council. As a member of the
security committee, she began to receive death threats nearly
daily and her family was also threatened. Nearly a year
later, her husband was kidnapped and Saja took two months off
from work. Saja used her grief to push herself even harder
and returned to the Provincial Council more determined than
ever that more had to be done in order to promote security
throughout the province.

6. (SBU) Saja is working to improve the intelligence
offices throughout the province and is ensuring they have
better communication equipment to make them a viable force in
the elimination of terrorism. This year Saja also assisted
when tensions flared in Khanaqin between the Peshmerga (armed
Kurdish forces) and the Iraqi Army. She traveled to Khanaqin
to personally deliver a message to insist both sides remain
calm and not engage. Saja brought the media along with her
because she also understands how important it is to get the
message out to the people. Tensions finally abated, but it
was a volatile time to travel to that area.

7. (SBU) Unlike many political figures in the province,
Saja is not afraid to attend open events or be seen on
television. She says she is a daughter of Diyala and
therefore a daughter of Iraq and people need to see that
there is a future for her country. The other women of the
Provincial Council look to Saja for her leadership on key
issues. The women have formed an all-female caucus realizing
they are stronger as a bloc than as members of their
individual parties. During a recent boycott staged by the
female members over unequal standards in comparison with the
male members of the Provincial Council, it was Saja who
managed to find a solution to the problem and encourage the
women that it was time to return to work in order to help the
people of Diyala.

8. (SBU) The next elections are just a few months away, and
Saja says this is another opportunity to savor the democracy
of new Iraq. Although there are 12 fewer seats for the
Diyala Provincial Council this year, women must still make up
a percentage of the Council and Saja is hopeful she will have
an opportunity to continue her work with security and women's
issues in the province. The Provincial Council Chairman
believes Saja is one of only three female members he feels
should be re-elected for the excellent work she has done in
the last three years. According to Saja, the women of the
Provincial Council are closer than sisters despite their
religious differences. One member of the Provincial Council
described Diyala as a wounded province, and Saja herself is
also wounded from the great loss of her husband but it is
inspiring to see both going through the healing process and
becoming stronger and more secure. Saja is a fighter and
will continue to work for the betterment of her home even if
she does not get re-elected.

9. (SBU) Second Priority: Suaad Abbas Salman Al-Lami
Full Legal Name: Suaad Abbas Salman Al-Lami
Job title/association: Lawyer, Director, Legal Center for
Supporting Women
Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq
Date of birth: March 1, 1967
Country of birth: Iraq
Citizenship: Iraqi
Address: Muhalla 557, Alley 55, House 1/8, Sadr City,
Baghdad, Iraq
Telephone: 07901644319
e-mail: suaad
Passport number: G1187657

Justification: On International Women's Day 2008, the
Embassy of Japan in Iraq awarded a Grassroots Grant to our
nominee Suaad Al-Lami, the founder of the Women For Progress
Non-Governmental Organization, to purchase an ultrasound
machine for her Sadr City Women's Center, the most
comprehensive of its kind, Offering medical exams, domestic
violence counseling, literacy education, vocational training,

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child care, exercise opportunities and legislative advocacy,
the Center, as well as her all-female Women's Legal Clinic in
Sadr City, are the creative offspring of this diminutive but
increasingly prominent female lawyer and women's rights
advocate. The women's Center is the third stage in her
ambitious and courageous plan set in motion to elevate the
status of women in Iraq. Her two Women Lawyers Continuing
Education seminars, held in February and July 2008, were the
first ever in Iraq and attracted 99 women lawyers from across
Baghdad. These training events, critical to helping Iraqi
women lawyers compete in a male dominated legal system, are
necessary adjuncts to leveling the playing field for Iraqi
women. This pioneer is developing program content for her
independent radio show "Ask A Woman" to be broadcast from
Sadr City.

10. (SBU) Her focus on women is not of recent vintage. She
has been in the trenches for women's rights in Iraq for
years, walking a tightrope between championing women and not
becoming a target to those culturally indisposed to strong
and vocal females looking for an equal place at the social
altar. More compelling and unlike other Iraqi women
activists advocating from the safer confines of Jordan or
abroad, her advocacy is rooted in her Sadr City home turf.
She believes that Iraq needs to rely on talented women who
make up a majority of the population yet are only a small
fraction of its workforce, especially in the professional
arena. She recognizes that, although Iraqi women have had
certain Constitutional rights, these often prove insufficient
to permit women to strive for and actually enjoy the same
opportunities and quality of life as men. On the national
political scene, only a few of the Cabinet Ministries are
held by women. Women remain only a tiny fraction of the
country's judiciary, shortcomings she is targeting.

11. (SBU) Despite threats and intimidation in the belly of
Al Sadr, she is determined to press her agenda. She is that
strong and credible advocate Iraqi women need to ensure that
equality is not only talked about but practiced and upheld in
ground truth. She toils in relative obscurity in stark
contrast to the brilliance of what she has done and where she
works. She remains the only woman on the 40 person Sadr City
District Council, serving as Chair of its Women and Children
Committee since 2004. She previously served on the Baghdad
Provincial Council from 2004 to 2005. She authored the
January 2008 By-Laws for all Baghdad Province District and
Qada Councils. She resisted, at great risk to her life, an
effort by a Sadr City power broker to extort her Women's
Center program, choosing instead to cancel the initial
program rather than yield to the strong arm tactics.
Agreeing to a request from UNAMI to head its August 2008
humanitarian food distribution drive in Sadr City, she
intervened in an effort by another DC member to steal the
supplies. In May 2008 she was selected from over 60
applicants Iraq-wide for funding under the Ambassador's
Targeted Development Program. Her proposal to provide 18,000
Sadr City schoolchildren with uniforms was approved for USD
1,800,000. Another proposal to create four more women's
centers, modeled after her Sadr City effort, in the Adhamiyah
area of Baghdad was approved for USD 700,000. She has filed
proposals with US-funded entities to teach internationally
recognized human rights to all of the Baghdad District
Councils and human rights to militia age males, taught by
strong women role models, as a deterrent to violent thinking.

12. (SBU) She has consistently been a moderate and reasoned
voice on the Sadr City District Council. She has engaged
frequently with US Government and Coalition Forces, in
public, in and outside the Green Zone, at great personal
risk. On May 12, 2008, in cooperation with a female Sunni
Member of Iraq's Parliament, she conducted an unannounced
inspection of the Kadhamiya Women's Prison, long reputed to
be a chamber of human rights abuses. Controversy followed
her troubling published findings. The Prison was recently in
the process of being closed by the Minister of Human Rights.

13. (SBU) She has been a practicing lawyer in Iraqi courts
for 16 years. Though Sadr City born and bred, she remains
open to ideas and different perspectives in the most
difficult ideological and cultural terrain. She recently

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declined a request from the Sadrist bloc to run in the
provincial elections. Owing to her moderate views she also
recently entertained a request from a minority Sunni party to
so run. She will continue to convince the government and
political parties that women are underutilized and must be
embraced if Iraq is to be taken seriously on the world stage.
This unassuming and well-respected figure in the legal and
women's rights communities in Baghdad is a rising star whose
potential to effect change and impact women's rights Iraq
wide is limited only by threats and intimidation.
14. (SBU) Third Priority: Najat Shakir Munshid al-Hameedawi
Full Legal Name: Najat Shakir Munshid al-Hameedawi
Job title/association: Member of the Baghdad Suburban
Services Board, Istiqlal Qada (District) Council, and
Husseiniya Nahia (Sub-district) Council; Ms. Najat serves on
numerous committees of local government and is an active
member of Iraq,s civil society community, including as the
head of the Istiqlal Organization for Women Development and
Date of birth: 15 June 1967
Country of Birth: Iraq
Citizenship: Iraq
Address: Husseiniya, Iraq
Telephone: 0790 171 5984
Passport number: G1465206

Justification: Ms. Najat, Istiqlal District Council member
and grassroots community activist, is a familiar face to the
ePRTs and battalion maneuver units with responsibility for
the rural areas of Baghdad province outside the city gates.
Since the fall of the old regime in 2003 she has advocated
for women's rights, peace and reconciliation, and better
services for her constituents. While she has received at
least 13 certificates of appreciation or letters of
recommendation from U.S. agencies, her greatest admirers are
inevitably at the local level, outside the spotlight. These
include military commanders who see her defend her rights
across the table from influential sheikhs, ePRT advisors who
have seen her develop detailed bylaws for the women's
organization she heads, and the USAID and DRL partners whose
training programs she tirelessly pursues to better herself in
her duties. Ms. Najat has never wavered in her democratic
cause or her support for the Coalition Forces that share that
cause even in the face of extreme danger to herself and her

15. (SBU) Ms. Najat,s day job on the Istiqlal district
council and Husseiniya sub-district council includes
leadership positions on the district,s Women & Children,s
Committee and four sub-district committees. At the
provincial level, she serves as the Istiqlal representative
to the Baghdad Suburban Services Board (BSSB) and the chair
of the Women & Children,s Committee for all of the rural
districts of Baghdad. Her commitment to grassroots
governance provides a stark contrast with a Baghdad PC that
is often dominated by the interests of national level
religious parties over constituent concerns. This problem is
particularly acute in the rural areas whereas the services of
Baghdad City are managed by a ministerial-level municipality,
the rural districts are overseen by much weaker local
councils. In the face of these structural barriers, in her
role on the BSSB, she advocates as hard and effectively for
her own Shia areas just north of Sadr City as for the Sunni
areas to the West and South of Baghdad. Ms. Najat's efforts
are thus addressing a key link in the counterinsurgency fight
to support the population in these strategically important
Baghdad belts. As Baghdad governance and bottom-up
reconciliation are essential to the U.S. mission in Iraq, her
commitment to deliver services to her constituents deserves
the highest recognition.

16. (SBU) Outside her official duties, Ms. Najat founded
the Istiqlal Organization for Women Development and Training
intended to strengthen the role of women in Iraq,s
democracy. She has received training in this arena both from
the International Republican Institute in Sulaymaniah and
from the Afro-Asian Lawyers Federation in Cairo. She has
also played an oversight role in Iraqi elections for the
Constitution and for the Council of Representatives in 2005.
One of her biggest goals is to develop an acceptance of a

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strong role for women in leadership within the Iraqi cultural
traditions, for example, through tribal sheikhs providing
public support for women candidates in this year,s Iraqi

17. (SBU) But what truly makes Ms. Najat,s achievements and
tireless efforts amazing is her incredible story of courage.
Ms. Najat put her life and that of her family in danger on a
daily basis by working for the Government of Iraq and with
Coalition Forces. She risked her life further by speaking up
for her strongly held ideas of democracy and women,s rights
and against the terrorist groups and sectarian militias who
do not want to see a stronger role for women in Iraqi
society. The terrorist threat became reality on a Friday in
the winter of 2006, when Ms. Najat was violently dragged from
her home in front of her family by a gang of Jaysh al-Mahdi
(JAM) Special Groups militia. She was tortured and brought
to trial in one of the Sharia courts operated by JAM and
sentenced to death. However, on her way to execution, she
convinced her executioner that she was innocent and to let
her go for the sake of her small children. Her executioner
was persuaded and released her with strict instructions to
leave Baghdad and Iraq.

18. (SBU) Ms. Najat refused to leave following her release.
Since the kidnapping she has divided her family so they live
with relatives in three different cities throughout Iraq and
she can continue to work for her community, for democracy,
and for her country. The threat has not diminished and yet
she continues to carry out her official duties and has only
increased her activism and fight for women,s rights. As she
stated, the danger is not over, "But I still want to work and
prove something to Iraq and to put my fingerprint on the work
to serve the Iraqi people." Ms. Najat,s dedication to her
native Iraq and to building a free country for her children
and future generations despite those dangers and threats to
her and her family are a true testament to her courage,
patriotism, and devotion to duty. Ms. Najat was notified
that she was being nominated and confirmed her willingness to
accept the award and travel to Washington DC.

19. (SBU) Fourth Priority: Wijdan Michael Shamo Salim
Full Legal Name: Wijdan Michael Shamo Salim
Job title: Minister of Human Rights, Government of Iraq
Date of Birth: December 20, 1962
Country of Birth: Iraq
Citizenship: Iraqi
Address: International Zone, Baghdad, Iraq
Telephone: 9647901111162
Passport number: D1000574

Justification: In Wijdan Salim,s two years as the Iraqi
Minister of Human Rights, she has worked tirelessly to
transform her ministry into an effective and functioning
body. The ministry has previously struggled to fulfill its
mandate in the face of unstable security situations, but Ms.
Salim has transformed it into a key institution within the
Government of Iraq. She is a powerful and courageous
proponent for human rights, and her voice has brought greater
and much needed attention to human rights issues in Iraq.

20. (SBU) She works with international organizations, local
NGOs, and foreign missions to ensure that her ministry and
human rights officials in other GOI branches receive
essential human rights training. She is very active in
ensuring government policies and legislation meet and are
implemented according to human rights standards. She has led
her ministry to increase mass grave investigations and pursue
related criminal cases, improve detention facilities and
detainee lives, and improve the lives of religious and ethnic
minorities. As a member of a minority group in Iraq herself,
Ms. Salim takes a strong interest in understanding the
realities of the situation, the greatest needs of the
minorities, and possible government solutions. She is
committed to improving human rights in Iraq and leading Iraq
to become an example for the region.

21. (SBU) Within the government, Ms. Salim has fought every
day to defend human rights in government policies and
actions. She has faced significant obstacles, including

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continuous threats on her and her family's life, but she has
never backed down. As a female, religious minority, and
political independent, she has overcome many difficulties to
get to such a high position. She is one of the most
outspoken members of the cabinet, often inciting anger, but
she has earned the respect of the predominantly male
government. Ms. Salim has not allowed the government to
ignore human rights and is now involved in almost every major
political issue facing Iraq. She is one of the Embassy's
core allies in the GOI and is always willing to work with the
Embassy and the Military on various human rights causes,
particularly in improving the detention systems and
protecting the rights of vulnerable populations.


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