Naziha al-Dulaimi, 1923-2007
Naziha Jawdet Ashgah al-Dulaimi, the first woman to occupy a cabinet position in the Arab Middle East, passed away this morning in Berlin at the age of 84, after battling the effects of a debilitating stroke for several years.
Al-Dulaimi, whose grandfather had left Anbar Province and settled in Baghdad in the late 19th century, was born in 1923, and graduated as a medical doctor in 1941. She joined the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) in 1948, and spent the 1950s researching and eradicating the indigenous Bejel bacteria in southern Iraq.
After the monarchy was overthrown, she was picked by President Abdel-Karim Qasim as Minister of Municipalities in the 1959 cabinet as the sole representative of the ICP in his republican government. She later assumed the post of State Minister in a later cabinet formation.
During her government career, al-Dulaimi was instrumental in turning the vast slums of eastern Baghdad into a massive public works and housing project that came to be known as Thawra (Revolution) City—now Sadr City. She also helped author the secular 1959 Civil Affairs Law, which was way ahead of its time in liberalizing marriage and inheritance laws to the advantage of Iraqi women.
Al-Dulaimi is to be buried in Suleimaniya, per her wishes for a final resting place in Iraq. She is survived by her brother Hisham al-Delaimi (in Suleimaniya) and a number of nephews and nieces, the eldest being Dr. Layth Lutfi al-Delaimi (in London). Family memorial services will be held in London, Berlin and Suleimaniya.
I wonder what the amphetamines-popping Mahdi Army thugs of Sadr City would make of this remarkable woman—a Sunni, secular woman with roots in Anbar Province—who had cured and housed their grandfathers and grandmothers.
I also wonder how the Delaimis—both of the Ba’athist and jihadist varieties—would choose to remember the legacy of Dr. Naziha, a liberal and a leftist who was one of their own.