Focus on Iraqi women and children neglected

Humanitarian problems in Iraq are ongoing despite the Bush administration’s frequent assertions that thousands of citizens have been “liberated.”

Significant humanitarian progress in Iraq is stymied by the administration’s ongoing attempts to defend the war to an English-speaking audience. In interviews, administration officials continue to bemoan the devastation Saddam Hussein caused, but rarely outline a constructive agenda to eliminate lawlessness, looting and sexual assault.

Many women and children in Iraq do not leave their homes, fearful of the skyrocketing kidnappings. Thousands of kidnappings have been reported since April 2003. Before the war, there were almost no reports. In addition, sexual assaults are on the rise while a criminal justice system remains to be established.

In postwar reconstruction, coalition forces continue to overlook women and children’s problems, giving them second billing. Last week Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao went to Iraq and visited a police academy, an employment center and an orphanage. Her relatively low influence in President George W. Bush’s circle of advisers suggests the issues of women and children are not only secondary but are best handled by women. Furthermore, the visit was primarily aimed to garner positive media attention.

A singular focus on election-year politics will continue to degrade humanitarian efforts in Iraq. No facts regarding the current situation for women and children are available from the White House. On the contrary, the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Web site links to a special White House Web page dramatically entitled, “Tales of Saddam’s Brutality.” It does not address, even in a cursory manner, today’s most pressing problems in Iraq.

Progress depends upon an honest and open assessment of the real issues the coalition faces – 50 percent of Iraq’s population is under 18 and 60 percent are women. The White House policy of selective self-promotion does not promote peace and, if not addressed quickly, will certainly backfire.