US in Iraq: How to get the endgame right
If the US wants to ensure success in Iraq, it must support cultural exchange programs such as the Iraqi Women’s Fellowship Foundation.
(Page 2 of 2)
Perhaps the turnout by women reflected their hope of giving their daughters the rights and opportunities they never experienced. Or perhaps they realized that, as women, they had the most to lose if the extremists prevailed.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Aftermath
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Whatever the reason, what would have happened to America’s experiment in Middle East democracy if these extraordinary mothers had not stepped forward?
During the waning days of the Bush administration, a lone woman, a retired World Bank officer, approached the State Department, seeking funding for a fellowship program by which Iraqi women could study engineering and science at top US academic institutions, and then return to assist in the reconstruction of their country.
She rightly pointed out that while US scholarship programs are open to men and women, only a women-focused program could counter Iraqi cultural biases that force women to defer to male competitors. If a debt was owed to anyone, she said, it was to this courageous group of women and to their hopes for their daughters. Sadly, the State Department was able to fund only an initial five scholarships for this program, known as the Iraqi Women’s Fellowship Foundation (IWFF).
Three of these Iraqi women scholars were recently in Washington for a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Each held an advanced degree: one in power engineering studying fromStanford University, one in electronic and communication engineering studying from UC-Berkeley and one in information technology from UC San Diego. Each spoke glowingly of their experience at their host institution and of their optimism for Iraq’s future. But they acknowledged, too, the challenges from Iraq’s 30-year separation from the outside world and the loss of many of its teachers, killed by terrorists.
History shows that the experiences of these talented women, and of the top US universities that host them, have the potential to make such programs one of our best investments.
As the Obama administration develops its plans for supporting the transition to Iraqi self-reliance – and fights another war in Afghanistan, in part to establish and protect the rights of women there – it must not forget the role of education exchanges. Washington should also keep in mind the courage of Iraq’s women and the foundational role that they can play in establishing a stable, just, and democratic Iraq.
Bradford Higgins, is former assistant secretary of State for resource management, chief financial officer of the US Department of State, and the first director of strategic planning and assessment for the US Mission in Baghdad. He is a partner in a venture capital firm, and currently serves as chairman of JumpStart International, a humanitarian aid organization.