"We aren't anti-Islam," Gilly says, "but we do support a federated, secular, democratic Iraq government [with] free religious expression. We want to be certain women enjoy equal rights and know what their options are."
In the two years since Hussein's fall, Gilly has twice traveled to Iraq to organize women's conferences. She recalls a 19-year-old woman who approached her with an Arabic-language copy of the Swiss constitution - and endless questions about how democracy works.
"There were a lot of misconceptions," she said. "I explained, for instance, that the majority rules, but minorities are protected. This is new to Iraqis. People who have been spoon-fed everything for many years have trouble knowing what freedom involves.
"But women are already engaging with these matters," she added. "I'm so optimistic about the voting" that will take this weekend.
`The right thing to do'
Don't trouble Gilly with negative takes on America's role in toppling Hussein. "People say America went in for the wrong reasons," she says, her voice rising, "but tell that to my people; tell that to the families who had daughters and sons in the mass graves. [Going in] was the right thing to do."
Her vehemence is tempered, of course, by personal experience. She returned to Kirkuk a year ago to visit neighborhoods she knew as a child. Her guide, a family friend, told her firsthand of the ways in which Baathist agents, in the aftermath of Kurdish uprisings, killed nine people, including an aunt and cousin.
"They shot my uncle, too," she said, her voice shaking. But "my uncle survived. He is so happy to have a chance to vote. He'll be there on Sunday" when voting takes place in Iraq.
Most eligible Iraqis will join him, she predicts - 90-plus percent in Kurdistan, she guesses, and 50-plus percent in the bloody Sunni triangle. "More are going to vote than will say so in public," she says.
She counsels patience with democratization.
"My friends in Iraq say that what is broken there can be fixed - the water, the electricity. Terror under Saddam could not." She agrees with President Bush that self-determination will bring stability and a more vibrant economy that will, in time, remove the thirst for terrorism.
In time, she may move her family back to Kirkuk. Her parents and older sister have already moved back. Her father is one of more than 200 candidates on the weekend's ballot.
Yesterday, Gilly and her husband, a 38-year-old software engineer, were among the dozens who took the first awkward steps toward a new Iraq. By noon, expatriates from the north, from Mosul and from Basra - and from homes all over the American Northeast - had cast ballots, their purple index fingers, marked for security reasons, serving as mementos of the day.
Inside, Gilly completed her new civic duty and stepped from the booth. Her traditional, patterned Kurdish dress now in full view, she spotted an old friend, Paiman Halmat, a Germantown neighbor who left Iraq 25 years ago. They embraced and burst into sobs.
Television cameras surrounded them. Neither seemed to notice.
As they made for the exit, arm-in-arm with her husband, Gilly dabbed at the pools of mascara below her eyes.
A reporter stopped her. "Why did you break down?" he asked.
She looked at him with surprise.
"It's history," she said.