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Iraq's female lawmakers complain

A token presence in the Maliki cabinet draws ire - and petitions to the U.N. and Arab League.

BAGHDAD - Female lawmakers are furious that only one member of Iraq's new cabinet is a woman and are demanding better representation in a government that otherwise has been praised by the international community for bringing together the country's religious sects and political parties.

Although women make up a quarter of the 325-member parliament, only two ministries were offered to women - with a female candidate refusing one of them in protest - in the 44-member cabinet that was sworn in Tuesday.

Female lawmakers cried foul and demanded more women be appointed.

"We were shocked that there are no women in the cabinet," said Safiyah al-Suhail, a lawmaker with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, dismissing the lone female "minister without portfolio" as irrelevant.

Suhail was among 50 female lawmakers who pushed Thursday for a fairer share in the government by petitioning the nation's top leaders, the United Nations, and the Arab League for more posts.

The group blasted the prime minister and Iraq's male politicians for not taking women's political skills and their professional experience seriously.

"It seems that the leaders do not trust us as politicians or as ministers," Suhail said. She demanded that women get some of the 10 posts that have been temporarily filled with acting ministers, including one of the country's three security posts.

Women were allocated only two posts in the new government. One was the ministry without portfolio - a post with no job description, no budget, and no office. The other was for women's affairs.

The post was offered to a Kurdish lawmaker, Zayan Dakhil, but she refused to take it to protest the lack of women in the Cabinet, drawing support from other female lawmakers and women's organizations.

"I am with her," said Bushra al-Zuaini, the lone remaining woman in the government. But while she supported Dakhil's stance and shared the outrage at the lack of representation in the government, Zuaini said she would not give up her post.

"I will assume my position, and I will prove that women can be successful in administrating executive posts," she said.

Maliki acknowledged the paucity of women in his government when he addressed the parliament Tuesday, blaming political blocs for failing to nominate more female candidates for the nation's top jobs.

Under the Iraqi constitution, 25 percent of parliament's seats have to be filled by women. But there is no similar requirement for cabinet posts.