Ruth Rosen: The Hidden War On Women In Iraq

At TomDispatch, a horrifying but not surprising article by Ruth Rosen on women’s conditions in Iraq post-invasion.

There’s no way I can quote all the important parts of this article, but here’s a few samples:

Amal Kadham Swadi, one of seven Iraqi female attorneys attempting to represent imprisoned women, told the Guardian that only one woman she met with was willing to speak about rape. “She was crying. She told us she had been raped. Several American soldiers had raped her. She had tried to fight them off, and they had hurt her arm. She showed us the stitches. She told us, ‘We have daughters and husbands. For God’s sake don’t tell anyone about this.'”


Sexual Terrorism on the Streets

Meanwhile, the chaos of the war has also led to a rash of kidnappings and rapes of women outside of prison walls. After interviewing rape and abduction victims, as well as eyewitnesses, Iraqi police and health professionals, and U.S. military police and civil affairs officers, Human Rights Watch released a report in July, 2003, titled Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad. Only months after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, they had already learned of twenty-five credible allegations of the rape and/or abduction of Iraqi women. Not surprisingly, the report found that “police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction, that the police were under-resourced, and that victims of sexual violence confronted indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel.” Since then, as chaos, violence, and bloodletting have descended on Iraq, matters have only gotten worse.

After the American invasion, local gangs began roaming Baghdad, snatching girls and women from the street. Interviews with human rights investigators have produced some horrifying stories. […]

As recently as June 2006, Mayada Zhaair, spokeswoman for the Women’s Rights Association, a local NGO, reported, “We’ve observed an increase in the number of women being sexually abused and raped in the past four months, especially in the capital.”

No one knows how many abducted women have never returned. As one Iraqi police inspector testified, “Some gangs specialize in kidnapping girls, they sell them to Gulf countries. This happened before the war too, but now it is worse, they can get in and out without passports.” Others interviewed by Human Rights Watch argued that such trafficking in women had not occurred before the invasion.

The U.S. State Department’s June 2005 report on the trafficking of women suggested that the extent of the problem in Iraq is “difficult to appropriately gauge” under current chaotic circumstances, but cited an unknown number of Iraqi women and girls being sent to Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Persian Gulf countries for sexual exploitation.


Disappearing women

To avoid such dangers, countless Iraqi women have become shut-ins in their own homes. Historian Marjorie Lasky has described this situation in “Iraqi Women Under Siege,” a 2006 report for Codepink, an anti-war women’s organization. Before the war, she points out, many educated Iraqi women participated fully in the work force and in public life. Now, many of them rarely go out. They fear kidnap and rape; they are terrified of getting caught in the cross-fire between Americans and insurgents; they are frightened by sectarian reprisals; and they are scared of Islamic militants who intimidate or beat them if they are not “properly covered.”

“In the British-occupied south,” Terri Judd reported in the British Independent,”where Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi’s Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.”

Invisible women — for some Iraqi fundamentalist Islamic leaders, this is a dream come true. The Ministry of the Interior, for example, recently issued notices warning women not to go out on their own. “This is a Muslim country and any attack on a woman’s modesty is also an attack on our religious beliefs,” said Salah Ali, a senior ministry official. Religious leaders in both Sunni and Shiite mosques have used their sermons to persuade their largely male congregations to keep working women at home. “These incidents of abuse just prove what we have been saying for so long,” said Sheikh Salah Muzidin, an imam at a mosque in Baghdad. “That it is the Islamic duty of women to stay in their homes, looking after their children and husbands rather than searching for work—especially with the current lack of security in the country.”

In the early 1970s, American feminists redefined rape and argued that it was an act driven not by sexual lust, but by a desire to exercise power over another person. Rape, they argued, was an act of terrorism that kept all women from claiming their right to public space. That is precisely what has happened to Iraqi women since the American invasion of Iraq.

There’s a lot more, and many links to more resources on women’s lives in Iraq. Read the whole thing.

I’m sorry to do a quote-post; I’ve tried writing a post on this subject myself many times, but I just get too angry to continue. What the US government (mostly Republicans, but with the cooperation of a shamefully huge number of Democrats) has done in Iraq is evil. If not the evil of malice, then the evil of being so self-centered and egotistical and partisan-sighted that they’re simply incapable of seeing the women whose murder, kidnappings, rapes, and home imprisonments they’ve eagerly enabled. It’s abusive and sick and – at the risk of becoming repetitive – evil.

And the number of pro-war Americans who have written or blogged honestly about the catastrophic decline in women’s rights in Iraq can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Are they sociopaths? Are they so racist and misogynistic that they’re incapable of caring what happens to non-white women? Are they so loyal to Bush that they think that the harm of saying one critical word about Bush outweighs the harm Bush’s policies have done to countless Iraqi women? What’s wrong with them?

(I know, I know; I’m being “shrill.” Why does anyone with a working brain think “shrill” is a legitimate critique of anything? Frankly, if thinking that what’s happening to Iraqi women is a moral travesty makes me shrill, then I’ll be shrill, and furthermore you should be ashamed if you’re not shrill.)

Keep in mind that women are a majority in Iraq. It’s becoming clear that, for that majority (and for many of the male minority, as well) bad as life under Saddam was, life under the American occupation is much worse. It’s a staggering accomplishment, if you think of it, that we’ve managed to outdo Saddam in this regard. Either this war was not fought to free the people of Iraq, despite many claims to the contrary. Or if it was fought to free Iraqis, then the effort has been a dismal failure by people so brainwashed by partisanship and/or pro-war ideology that they’re no longer capable of recognizing failure, let alone taking any responsibility for the unbelievable damage they’ve caused.

How many Iraqi women have to be raped, kidnapped, and murdered before more than a handful of the folks who favored invading Iraq admit they’ve screwed up catastrophically? My guess is: all of them. And even that probably wouldn’t be enough.

This thread is reserved for feminist and feminist-friendly posters only. Cross-posted at Creative Destruction .


This entry posted in Iraq, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

10 Responses to Ruth Rosen: The Hidden War On Women In Iraq

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  4. 4
    ginmar says:

    You know, if we were doing anything effective over there, we should have known about this crime, or we should have known about these guys planning this. The insurgents should not have known before we did. That’s just a commentary on how badly-executed this has been.

    These guys should not have been allowed to so much as harass her for one day. That’s what I cadn’t get over. It shouldn’t have even gotten that far!

  5. 5
    Heart says:

    ginmar, all of the neighbors of this family knew what had happened. They saw the soldiers storm the place, then a few hours later a bunch more soldiers came, cordoned the place off, and announced that this was the work of Sunni insurgents because the family was Shi’ah. Neighbors, again, knew this was wrong, because they knew the family was Sunni and highly-respected in the Sunni community. In the interviews with neighbors and others that I read, or the reports in blogs and articles from Iraq and the Middle East, the neighbors were afraid to say anything about this to anybody– understandably so. There they were, being “guarded” by the perps! To them it looked like something the U.S. planned, carried out and covered up. Some have speculated that this was a psy-op, planned by military leaders ahead of time, and honestly, that’s what it does look like. This happened back in March. Jeremy Green was sent home three weeks before the news of the rape broke, described as a danger to civilians. Then the two Americans were killed and mutilated, and finally then two guys who knew about it talked to a counselor. If they had never talked to the counselor, probably nobody would have ever paid any attention to this– it would have been dismissed as the work of “insurgents,” which was the official story, even though all of the neighbors knew that wasn’t true. But what are you going to do when you are surrounded by American military with guns, behaving as they have been behaving? Who are you going to report this to?

    The one courageous neighbor who gave the eyewitness testimony, really did try to get the word out. Here is his eyewitness testimony:

    After three hours the [American] occupation troops surrounded the house and told the people of the area that the family had been killed by terrorists because they were Shi’ah. Nobody in town believed that story because Abu ‘Abir was known as one of the best people of the city, one of the noblest, and no Shi’i, but a Sunni monotheist. Everyone doubted their story and so after the sunset prayers the occupation troops took the four bodies away to the American base. Then the next day they handed them over to the al-Mahmudiyah government hospital and told the hospital administration that terrorists had killed the family. That morning I went with relatives of the deceased to the hospital. We received the bodies and buried them, may God have mercy on them.

    The neighbor went on: “Then we decided that we must not be silent so we asked the mujahideen to respond as quickly as possible. They responded with 30 attacks on the occupation in two days, bringing down more than 40 American soldiers. But our blood was still not cooled, so we decided to go to al-’Arabiyah satellite TV to tell them the story since it is a station that broadcasts in Iraq. But al-’Arabiyah paid no attention to us and said we were liars. They told us that their policy was to rely on official announcements issued by the American army, and that they were not able to get into a story over which they had no power. This was told to us by the al-’Arabiyah correspondent Ahmad as-Salih. So we went to local newspapers and they slammed the doors in our faces because we are Sunnis and the rape victim was a Sunni girl. But the Resistance fighters told us that God does not allow the blood of any Muslim to be lost, and they told us to patiently persevere and we would see such a punishment for the blood of ‘Abir and her family, for the violation of the honor of our sister, a punishment that would make people’s hair stand on end

    It just looks to me like it is possible this was planned, ordered, and covered up. And those involved could so get away with this, because they control the local television stations, they cannot be criminally prosecuted, they have ALL of the power. ALL. Some have said the mutliation murders of U.S. troops were not really in retaliation, but I think they were, based on the last sentence of the neighbor’s account. This happened, it looks like to me it was covered up, the news media wouldn’t report it, so insurgents dealt with the situation. Only then did the two troops talk to the counselors, only then was Green sent home.


  6. 6
    ginmar says:

    oh, I don’t believe for one moment the rape and murder was planned. Not for one second. I believe that everybody looked the other way and then tried to cover it up and minimize it, though. The fact is, we got lectures about how upholding human rights of the Iraqis, and these guys violated it the first day they harassed that girl. Their other soldiers didn’t care enough to report it or faced either an indifferent or hostile command. But the actual crime was not planned by the army. Please don’t go there. It’s like saying Bush was behind 9/11.

  7. 7
    belledame222 says:

    *deep sigh*

    I wonder how many American women who think this was such a great, liberating thing for those poor suffering (exotic, Other) Iraqi women know anything about this?

    or if they’ve ever considered how they’d like it if they were “liberated” through bombs and gunfire and chaos and wounded and killed loved ones, and then in the aftermath the Christian fundamentalists started going around harassing/threatening/hurting anyone wearing pants, revealing clothing, “living in sin,” out alone after dark (or at all)…

    but hey. “It can’t happen here.”

  8. 8
    ginmar says:

    I keep running into the most awful justifications for the war in Iraq that are based on willfull ignorance. I’ve had people tell me that it was just awful for Iraqi women before hand, but now it’s better. They have to believe that, or they’re assholes. Unfortunately, well, they’re assholes. These women didn’t wear veils, worked alongside men, and enjoyed public life. Now they simply don’t. And it’s our fault.

  9. 9
    Heart says:

    You’re in my head, ginmar, that’s just what I’ve been thinking about today. I was looking at that photo of Iraqi women soldiers that I posted to my website and thinking to myself, is there some good reason this kind of photo barely ever made it, or makes it, into Western media and all we ever see, if that’s the only place we look, is veiled women? Even the photo of the Kurd woman holding a gun and smoking a cigarette: we don’t see that kind of photo of Iraqi women. They have to be othered into oblivion to justify what the hell we’re doing over there, made to be Not. Like. Us. and therefore deserving of whatever happens to them.


  10. 10
    me says:

    If this is deleted, so be it.

    A rapist is a rapist is a rapist. If there is an American soldier raping innocent Iraqis (and I do not doubt this story), then that is an American who will continue to find excuses to rape once he returns home.

    For a group of young American men to plan and carry out a rape party with military precision gives me the absolute creeps.

    I’m not looking forward to having these particular soldiers return home to American soil. Best thing for all concerned if they return in bodybags.