Women Have Lots at Stake in Iraq Election

BAGHDAD, Jan. 22, 2005 — -- These are dangerous times for anyone associated with Iraqi politics, especially for women.

Maysoon al Damluji feels uncomfortable just asking for people's vote.

"There's an element of guilt every time you encourage someone to go out," she said. "You ask yourself, 'What happens if something happened to this, you know, voter?' "

'State of Panic'

Last weekend, Shiite candidate Salama al-Khafaji survived her second assassination attempt when gunmen ambushed her car. In a prior attempt, they killed her 17-year-old son.

"Iraqi women face more stress than they can handle," another candidate Widjan al-Khuzri told ABC News recently. "We live in a state of panic."

American soldiers found al-Khuzri's body on Dec. 24, dumped on the airport road in Baghdad. She had been shot in the face.

Women have much at stake in this race. That's why the rules guarantee at least a quarter of the 275 seats in the new parliament will go to women.

Much to Lose

Iraqi women have long had more rights than women in some neighboring countries. Many worry that may change.

Shiite clerics have issued a fatwa, making it a religious duty for their followers to vote, so religious conservatives are expected to turn out in huge numbers. The worry is the violence is going to keep the moderates home.

"If the extremists win," said Maysoon al Damluji at a meeting of women candidates last weekend, "the biggest setback will be for us."

In Iraq, it is so dangerous that in most cases the voters won't even know who they are voting for. They'll choose by party. The names of the candidates are typically a well-kept secret. But one-third of those names belong to women.

ABC News' David Wright in Baghdad originally reported this story Jan. 16, 2005, on "World News Tonight."