Iraqi National Assemblywoman Tanya Gilly-Khailany is witnessing a transformation of her country she has dreamt of all her life: Men and women are working. Boys and girls are going to school. Millions have been immunized against polio and other life-threatening diseases. Construction is on the rise, as are new business startups. And the Iraqi gross domestic product has grown from $18.9 billion in 2002 to $33.1 billion in 2005. More importantly, fear throughout the country is dissipating.
It’s a far cry from the country Gilly-Khailany was forced to flee as a little girl in 1981. She was then only seven-years-old, a member of a Kurdish family from the city of Kirkuk, and agents of Saddam Hussein had made two attempts against her father’s life.
Growing up in the United States, Gilly-Khailany embraced American culture, but she never lost her identity, her pride in being Kurdish, and her commitment to a new Iraq and hopeful U.S. intervention to accomplish the goals of that commitment. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, she worked with various Iraqi exile groups opposed to Saddam's regime. She has since worked with – ultimately becoming director of democracy programs at – the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).
On December 15, 2005, exactly two months after voting on a draft constitution, Iraqis cast ballots for a new National Assembly. Gilly-Khailany, who was on the Kurdish Alliance list, was elected to represent Kirkuk.
“Tanya has long believed that Iraq can be a free, democratic, pluralistic society. … Now she will have the opportunity to help shape Iraq's future from the inside,” said FDD president Clifford D. May in a prepared statement. In a personal conversation, last week, he added, Gilly-Khailany believes “the Middle East can become part of the Free World.”
Two weeks ago, less than six hours before leaving her home in Maryland for her native Iraq, Gilly-Khailany took time to chat with me about her new post, the future of Iraqi democracy, the courage of the Iraqi people, terrorists in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion, and the ongoing insurgency.
WTSjr: Let’s first address the fundamental question on everyone’s mind: Do you believe we can win this war in Iraq?
GILLY-KHAILANY: We’ve already won the first part of the war: Removing Saddam Hussein and giving Iraqis a free voice. That was huge. Now, regarding the war on terror, which Iraq is part of, we will win. It’s just a matter of time. And with the proper resources and support from the outside world, Iraq definitely will rise to become a major democratic force in the region.
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