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Iraqi women eye Islamic law

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But whether her voice and those of other women will be heard - especially if their views are unpopular - is uncertain. Assembly members opposed to strict Islamic views may have to rely on secular groups like the Kurds and supporters of Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to support them as lawmakers sit down to draft a new constitution.

After a disappointing showing in the election, Mr. Allawi made a splash this week with an aggressive bid to remain prime minister. He has said he is trying to form a coalition that will be able to overpower the UIA. But the strategy would require a hefty chunk of UIA members to defect from their choice of Ibrahim al-Jaafari. It would also need the support of the 135 members of the assembly - including the increasingly assertive Kurds - who are not in the UIA. The push is likely to result in offers of top government positions to Allawi's cohort in exchange for backing down.

In the nearly two years since the regime of Saddam Hussein fell, pressure has grown for women to conform to stricter Islamic standards. "The Baath Party, with all the things many believe they did wrong, [still ensured that Iraqi] women had the most rights in the region," says Rime Allaf, an associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, where she is researching women's status in Iraq. "Now, a lot of women are being very careful about how they dress. They are being told by perfect strangers, 'You need to cover your hair ... [and] your arms.' "

As a result, a central concern is how Islamic law might be interpreted and implemented. "Sharia depends on the man who is giving the law, the [religious leaders] and others. No one can guarantee sharia will be applied perfectly," says Abeer Rashid, a female candidate on Allawi's list who didn't win a seat.

On the ground, Iraqi women have very different ideas about what sharia means.

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