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Iraqi Businesswomen Push For Government Support

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi businesswomen urged the government on March 21 to support them in their push for a greater share of the business that is expected to flourish in Iraq now that the violence is subsiding.

A branch of the U.S. military engineering division helping to rebuild Iraq has been supporting Iraqi businesswomen by offering training seminars and trying to ensure that they have equal opportunities in competing for reconstruction contracts.

"We urge the Iraqi government to have a similar program that will set aside a percentage of contracts to be awarded to businesses owned by women," said Azza Humadi, manager of the engineering division's Women's Advocate Initiative.

"We urge the politicians among us to introduce legislation in parliament to this effect," she added, speaking at a conference on businesses owned by Iraqi women.

Women have suffered immensely since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which ushered in years of rule by religious groups and Islamist militants who restricted women's rights.

The war made widows of thousands, and others' husbands were imprisoned.

Iraqis hope a sharp decline in violence over the past year will herald an investment boom.

U.S. military agencies involved in Iraqi reconstruction said they had awarded 1,020 contracts to women-owned businesses in 2008, worth a total of $187 million.

One woman at the conference was the business development manager of a group planning a $5 million mall in Iraq.

Women are little represented at the upper levels of business in the Middle East in general, yet the wife of Islam's Prophet Mohammad, Khadija, was known to be a wealthy trader.

"The entry of women into the business world is no less important than her participation in politics," female Iraqi lawmaker Shatha al-Obosi told the conference. "I say that if this matter needs new legislation, we as members of parliament will do our best in this matter."