Iran's Nobel Winner Hits Out at U.S. Foreign Policy

By Inger Sethov
OSLO (Reuters) - The first Muslim woman to win the Nobel peace prize took a swipe at U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East Tuesday in the run up to the ceremony where she will collect her $1.4 million award.

Iranian reformist lawyer Shirin Ebadi, in Oslo to receive the 2003 award for her work to promote the rights of children and women, rebuked Washington for the U.S.-led war in Iraq (news - web sites) and reluctance to give the United Nations (news - web sites) a meaningful role in Iraq's postwar resurrection.

"Democracy should not be used as a pretext to attack other countries," Ebadi told a news conference at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in
Oslo where she will collect her prize Wednesday.

"But what is important is the support of international public opinion and the United Nations."

President Bush (news - web sites)'s administration who labeled North Korea (news - web sites), Iran and pre-war Iraq an "Axis of Evil" initially said it launched the Iraq war in March to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, but none have been found. It now says
Iraq is better off without president Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

Pro-reform activists in Iran hope that Ebadi's prize will help reinvigorate reformists in Iran, who under President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites) have struggled to overcome stiff resistance to change from powerful hard-line clerics.

Dressed in a pale pink suit and flaunting
Iran's dress code for women by appearing without a headscarf, Ebadi warned reformists the award was a platform to call for change and not a magical event that would transform the political landscape.

"If only the Nobel Peace Prize they have given me was a golden key which could open the prison doors," she said. "All I can do is voice my demands and hope to get a response."

In the background to the press conference a group of about 50 Iranians outside the Nobel institute were chanting: "Islamic Republic -- Down, down, down."

Some women demonstrators dressed in ankle-length black veils with chains twined around them held up signs saying: "
Iran is Auschwitz for women.."

The decision to award the peace prize to
Iran's first female judge, before the 1979 Islamic revolution forced her to step aside in favor of men, will do little to dissuade conservatives in Iran who say she is a political stooge of the West.

It is also a news story about a Muslim which will stand in sharp relief to the steady diet of reports of militant Islamic suicide bombers, who have filled the pages of Western newspapers since Saudi born Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda suicide hijackers killed 3,000 people in the United States on September 11, 2001.

Ebadi has said she will return to
Iran despite security concerns and use her prize money to continue that work.

"My place is in
Iran. I have to go back."