BAGHDAD — “Do not think that because you are a woman you will not face the same fate as your father,” the voice said to Safia al-Souhail over the phone.
Ms. Souhail’s father, an exiled opposition leader, was assassinated in Beirut in 1994 by Iraqi agents posing as diplomats.
For the next nine years, she waged a fierce campaign to bring his killers, and Saddam’s entire government, to trial for its crimes under international law.
She earned many such death threats. “I did not succeed,” she said. “But I tried my best.”
Today, Ms. Souhail, 38, is a leading candidate to fill the slot left vacant when Aquila Al-Hashemi, one of only three female members of the Iraqi Governing Council, was assassinated.
As the daughter of a powerful tribal sheik, and a longtime human rights activist, Ms. Souhail is an increasingly influential voice in Iraqi politics.
Her father, Sheik Taleb Al-Souhail Al-Tamimi, led a million-member Central Iraqi tribe called the Bani Tamim. When he was killed, she inherited the political leadership of the tribe.
Out of respect, and affection for the fiery Ms. Souhail, Bani Tamim loyalists call her “the sheikha.”
“I’m used to it,” she said, when asked if she is afraid to be in such a highly visible position, with daily attacks against U.S. troops and those who work with them.
“I spent so many years under the eyes of the regime’s security forces.”
Ms. Souhail is demanding quotas for women in Iraq’s new government — not just in civil service, but in government ministries, in drafting the constitution and on the Governing Council itself.
“They have seats for Shi’ites, for Sunnis, for Kurds, for Assyrians,” she said, pulling on a Marlboro Light, “and they didn’t think that they should have” seats set aside for women.
Though Ms. Souhail’s family left the country when she was 3 years old, after the Ba’athist coup of 1968, they kept close ties to Iraq.
The Mukhabarat, the regime’s dreaded security forces, took notice. In Amman, Jordan, where Ms. Souhail got her bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, the Iraqi military attache paid the next-door neighbors to leave and then moved in with surveillance equipment.