Iraqi Women On Tour

Iraqi Women On Tour

Visitors gain first-hand look at democracy Vienna-style.

A few days earlier, she had been at the United Nations, but on Monday, Nasreen Berwari, Iraq's minister for municipalities and public works addressed the Vienna Town Council.

She had recently toured Washington, D.C. and seen the condition of the city's infrastructure, something she would be responsible for in her own country. "How come I'm under so much fire in my own country when things are so difficult?" she joked.

Berwari and a delegation of about 10 Iraqi women have been visiting the United States to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. On March 8, they will celebrate International Women's Day, in Washington, D.C., said Deborah Emmert, program director of the Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative for the U.S. Department of State.

The delegation, Berwari said, is made up of different ethnic and religious groups, "but we are all Iraqi," she said.

They have a series of high-level meetings scheduled over the intervening days, but in that time, they are taking the chance to see democracy in action at the local level with visits to the Town Council and the Maryland General Assembly, Emmert said.

Berwari addressed the council in English, while a translator spoke into a wireless transmitter so that other members of the delegation could understand. Berwari first complimented Vienna as a beautiful town and thanked the members of the Town Council, who had met the delegation for dinner.

Berwari explained that she oversees a staff of 46,000 people, about half of whom are women, Berwari said, and 251 municipal offices.

The delegation includes a member of the newly elected Iraqi Parliament, a member of the transitional government and leaders of some non-governmental organizations. "These are a phenomenon in the new Iraq," Berwari said.

A few years ago, she said, such a delegation could not have existed. "Under Saddam, visiting any other country would be like you are going to be a spy," she said.

She thanked the American public for fighting the Iraq war and toppling Saddam Hussein. "2003 brought a major transformation to our life," she said.

The mayor and members of the Town Council took the opportunity to commend the women. "I think we can all learn from you, also from your courage in rebuilding your country," said Mayor Jane Seeman.

THE DELEGATION was then treated to some real-life democracy. Susan Stich, a Windover Heights resident announced that she would be running for Town Council. Stitch's announcement sets up a contested election at the Town Council level, in addition to the mayoral race.

The council reviewed the proposed Comprehensive Plan. Much of the discussion centered around references inserted into the plan about a form-based zoning code. The council has been weighing adopting a form-based code — a zoning code which regulates the appearance of a building rather than its use — on Maple Avenue.

Councilmember Maud Robinson, who has been generally unimpressed with the idea, wanted to excise references to the code, and also pursued changes which might relate to such a code.

For example, a form-based code could result in taller buildings along Maple Avenue, and Robinson suggested adding in that a low skyline is a feature of a small town. Although she would have left open the possibility of increasing the height in limited areas in the business district.

Councilmembers also discussed the wording of various phrases, suggesting a number of editorial changes.

The council left its public hearing open, and continued the meeting until April 3 to allow the Planning Commission time to study the proposed changes.

THE COUNCIL DENIED a request for about $1,000 to buy a banner to hang over Maple Avenue which would have recognized the winner of Town Business Liaison Committee's Community Service Award.

The council also appointed election officers for the May 2 election, and set a date for a closed session to interview people for appointment to various boards and commissions, and to discuss the possibility of litigation with Verizon.