Iraq Minister of Environment and acting Minister of Human Rights, Narmin Othman, 57, is an Iraqi Kurd and a one-time high school teacher.
Minister Othman was a former minister of social affairs in the Kurdistan regional government. Before joining government service, she was a member of the peshmerga, a military force that has fought for Kurdish independence since the 1920s. She served as the minister of state for women's affairs in the Iraqi transitional government. Narmin Othman knew long ago the price of politics in Iraq, where guerrillas already have assassinated two high-ranking female officials as well as mid-level activists. Like many Iraqis, Othman’s story is heavy with hardship. Her father, brother and husband were active in the Kurdish resistance and spent years hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq, living as guerrillas, or peshmerga. All were jailed by Saddam Hussein. She was arrested numerous times and had to leave her son behind when she and her husband fled to exile in Sweden in 1984. During their eight years there, she experienced the freedom she’d only imagined in Iraq. "'I touched the democracy in Sweden,' says Othman. 'Every nice thing that you see, you dream that you can bring to your own country. In democracy, people can use their voice without any fear.' Othman returned to northern Iraq in 1992, after the Gulf War, and became minister of education in the Kurdistan region. She did not leave that area until Saddam was overthrown in 2003. Her husband passed away in March 2004, just as she was offered a post in the interim Iraqi government. 'I didn’t care for my life, so I always put some mission before me,' says Othman. 'Loving your people is bigger than loving yourself.'