Iraqi Women Crowd Ballot in Election

On the eve of Iraq's second nationwide election, a car bomb killed at least three pilgrims and wounded more than 30 near a Shiite shrine.

Violence has dropped dramatically since the first election, and the type of candidate running for office has changed too, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

At a Baghdad Women's Day lunch, Ishtar, Iraq's answer to a girl band, played traditional music.

The guests - housewives, students and professionals - included Maysoun Damlouji, an architect and member of parliament who is running for re-election Sunday.

She's one of 2,000 female candidates who hit the campaign trail for this election, an unprecedented showing in this male-dominated society.

Political parties have been forced to take women's issues seriously for the first time ever. Iraq's constitution was drafted in 2005 with lots of American input, and it stipulates that 25 percent of the seats in Iraq's parliament must go to women.

That's more than the representation of women in the U.S. House or Senate, but like all quotas this one had its downside. Some of the women in the last Iraqi parliament were chosen to run simply to fill out party allocations, not because they were competent.

This time, though, the quality of the candidates has improved hugely.

They come from across Iraq's social spectrum, but most share a commitment to the women who remain among the poorest members of this society.

Dr. Fawz al Nuaimy is a political activist.

"We need to raise the standard of living of people who are really in need, bad need, of care, medical care, then you come to education," Nuaimy said.

Education and a decent job remain a just a dream for so many Iraqi women who are bringing up their families alone, having lost their husbands to three decades of violence and war.

Now, though, a fragile peace seems to have taken hold, and life holds promise again for some.

A decisive win in Sunday's election for strong women candidates could bring that promise to millions more.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."