BAGHDAD - Leaders of the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, attended a ceremony, May 21, held by the Ready Made Clothing Factory to celebrate the opening of a vocational technical school for women here.

The Mahmudiyah Sewing and Beauty Votech School, on the grounds of the factory south of Baghdad, was established to give war widows a means to provide for their families.

Sixty percent of all women in the district are war widows and make a popular mark for insurgent propaganda.

"Women are a soft target for extremist groups," said Capt. Sarah Woods, Civil Affairs Team 31with 2nd BCT, 1st Inf. Div. "They want to take care of their families. Giving them the skills to do so helps prevent them from becoming insurgents."

Sheik Sadoon Muhsin Al Kaylani, chairman of Bain Alnah Rain Center for Economic Development, and driving force behind the project, said he hopes it will unite the community.

"It is a way for people to come together and find jobs," said Kaylani. "Even those with different religious beliefs. It will also give females a chance to own businesses in the future to help support their families."

The program offers advanced sewing and beauty salon management. The school can take up to 30 students per session-20 slots for sewing and ten slots for beauty school. Students do not need to meet any special requirements before enrolling in the school.

"There is a waiting list of about 300 applicants," said Saif Jassim, director of the Ready Made Clothing Factory and the master of ceremony for the event. "Both sewing and beauty students can get jobs here on the premises."

"The women from the area are so excited; the first three sessions are already full," said Woods. "The alternative is to travel to Baghdad. They can be close to home and take care of their families with a school in Mahmudiyah."

Ms. Rebecca, who asked not to use her real name, has been an employee with the company for more than a decade.

"I am so happy that we have this program," said Rebecca. "It should increase the amount of workers we have here at RMC factory."

Graduates of the school can apply for jobs at the factory, which is fortunate as it is tripling its production line, but does not have enough workers.

Following the ceremony, the school opened for tours. Prospective students, who begin classes May 24, sewed samples on the machines while others were becoming familiar with the equipment in the beauty shop.

The top half of the school building's exterior is painted purple and the bottom half is pink. Woods said the colors represent prosperity and good luck in the Iraqi culture.

"Also, we paint the building with bright colors for the sun to reflect and fill the room up with light," said Jassim.

Jassim said the factory is well established within the community, and the students and workers view the school as the beacon that will lead them into the future.

"This place is famous in Mahmudiyah," said Jassim. "The people know it will be a safe place to work and study. Now that the school is opening on this location, today is a very, very great day."