The enormous political and diplomatic value of such education programs has certainly not been lost on other nations.
At one end of this spectrum are extremist-funded religious schools (madrasas) that proselytize radical views, creating a steady and growing stream of terrorists. At the other end of the spectrum consider Iran: It has been estimated that for every Iraqi studying in the US, 100 are studying in Tehran. One can only wonder what type of influence 500 US-trained Iraqi managers and teachers will have in five years compared with the 50,000 trained in Iran.
This wide disparity in commitment to cultural education may very well become a “missile gap,” one that the Obama administration and Congress need to address now if they are to win the Iraq endgame. And nowhere in Iraq is this critical imbalance more out of whack – or represents a greater return on investment – than with Iraq’s women.
The critical role Iraqi women played in establishing the new government is best reflected in Iraq’s passage of constitutional provisions reserving 25 percent of seats in parliament for women. But it was Iraq’s first free election, in December 2004, that will forever define their extraordinary contribution to Iraq’s future. It also represents one of democracy’s finest hours.
Predictions of massive casualties at the polling centers led to real fears that voters would stay home and the election would fail.
To the astonishment of many, and despite numerous acts of violence, it was the older Iraqi women who were the first to appear, and, after casting their own ballots, they returned with their daughters so they could vote. Only later did their husbands and sons start to appear in large numbers to vote.