Kurdish Parliament Rejects Islamization of Personal Status Laws
Late last December, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and some allies on the US-appointed Interim Governing Council issued an executive order abrogating Iraq’s secular personal status laws and putting each Iraqi under the personal status laws of his or her religious sect. This step had clearly negative implications for women’s rights, and produced women’s demonstrations. The decision was so controversial that it appears to have been withdrawn for the moment, though the issue will arise again when a new constitution is written.
Just to complicate things, not only did many women not like the change, but it has now been formally rejected by the Kurdish parliament in the north, according to ash-Sharq al-Awsat. The Kurdish parliament issued a statement saying that it is abiding by the civil, uniform personal status law passed in 1959, as amended by the Kurdish administration since 1992. (Because of the American no-fly zone and Kurdish semi-independence from Saddam, the Kurds have been conducting their own administration for over a decade).
A Kurdish representative on the IGC, Mahmoud Osman, himself rejected the IGC decree (which was never implemented). He said yesterday that “The 1959 law guaranteed many just rights to women and affirmed their equality with men. The decision of the Governing Council turns over family law to religious laws for a decision, rather than to civil courts . . . If we employed religious systems of law, matters such as inheritance and polygamy would not be just with regard to women.”
Osman’s secular mindset is typical of middle class Iraqi Sunnis, both Arabs and Kurds, and differs starkly from the attitude in the Shiite south, where probably a slight majority would support religious law. Whether such issues can be negotiated in the new constitution and the transitional parliament without provoking ethnic conflict remains to be seen.
In a related story, Kurdish leaders acknowledged receiving a letter of condolence from Sistani about the Irbil bombings on Sunday, which they said was heartfelt and appreciated. But they contrasted the grand ayatollah’s response to that of the “Shiite parties,” especially the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which they characterized as “tepid.” Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani complained that they had vigorously spoken out when Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim and about 100 others were killed by a car bomb in Najaf on August 29.
What is behind this Shiite-Kurdish tiff is not entirely clear. But it may be that SCIRI was annoyed by Kurdish opposition to the implementation of Islamic law and by Kurdish demands for loose federalism, and has allowed these political differences to affect the way its officials address the Kurdish leadership even over a tragedy like February 1.