For Iraqi women, America’s promise of democracy is anything but liberation

February 27, 2013 at 11:16 am | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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For Iraqi women, America’s promise of democracy is anything but liberation

Iraq’s jailers learned their abuses from the allied occupiers. And under today’s sectarian regime, women are under assault

An Iraqi woman walks past a British soldier and military vehicle with a poster of a dollar bill with the Arabic writing: You can get some money, in exchange for some information

An Iraqi woman, in 2008, walks past a British soldier and military
vehicle with a poster of a dollar bill inscribed, in Arabic: ‘You can
get some money, in exchange for some information.
‘ Photograph: Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty Images

A decade on from the US-led invasion of Iraq, the destruction caused by foreign

occupation and the subsequent regime has had a massive impact on Iraqis’ daily

life – the most disturbing example of which is violence against women. At the

same time, the sectarian regime’s policy on religious garb is forcing women to

retire their hard-earned rights across the spectrum: employment, freedom of

movement, civil marriage, welfare benefits, and the right to education and

health services.

Instead, they are seeking survival and protection for themselves and their

families. But for many, the violence they face comes from the very institution

that should guarantee their safety: the government. Iraqi regime officials

often echo the same denials of the US-UK occupation authorities, saying that

there are few or no women detainees. An increasing number of international

and Iraqi human rights organizations reports otherwise.

The plight of women detainees was the starting point for the mass protests

that have spread through many Iraqi provinces since 25 December 2012.

Their treatment by the security forces has been a bleeding wound – and

one shrouded in secrecy, especially since 2003. Women have been

routinely detained as hostages – a tactic to force their male loved ones to

surrender to security forces, or confess to crimes ascribed to them.

Banners and placards carried by hundreds of thousands of protesters

portray images of women behind bars pleading for justice.

According to Mohamed al-Dainy, an Iraqi MP, there was

1,053 cases of documented rape (pdf) cases by the occupying troops

and Iraqi forces between 2003 and 2007. Lawyers acting on behalf

of former detainees say that UK detention practices between 2003

and 2008 included unlawful killings, beatings, hooding, sleep

deprivation, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, sometimes

involving women and children. The abuses were endemic, allege

the detainees’ lawyers, arising from the

“systems, management culture and training” of the British military.

These same occupation forces trained Iraqi forces. Abuses often

occurred under the supervision of US commanders, who were

unwilling to intervene, as the Washington Post reported:

“Of all the bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than

the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by

US-trained government police forces.”

In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, detainees were handed over to Iraqi

forces. This enabled them to be tortured, while occupation troops

could disclaim responsibility.

Today, Iraq can boast one of the highest execution rates in the world.

In a single day, 19 January 2012, 34 individuals, including two women,

were executed – an act described by

UN High Commissioner for Human RightsNavi Pillay as shocking:

“Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major

concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the

very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can

be imposed in Iraq.”

No wonder, ten years after the invasion, the Iraqi authorities are

accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of

“violating with impunity the rights of Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens, especially women and detainees”.

HRW’s account is echoed by a

report by the Iraqi parliament’s own human rights and women, family and children’s committees, which found that there are 1,030 women detainees

suffering from widespread abuse, including threats of rape.

Responding to these findings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

threatened to “arrest those members of parliament who had discussed

the violence against women detainees“. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime

Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has acknowledged that there

are 13,000 prisoners in custody accused of terror offences,

but he only mentioned women detainees in passing:

“We transferred all women prisoners to prisons in their

home provinces.”

Al-Shahristani’s statement is one in a long list of contradictory

and misleading statements by the regime’s most senior officials –

from al-Maliki speaking of “not more than a handful of women

terrorists”, to his contradictory promise that he will pardon all

“women detainees who have been arrested without a judicial

order or in lieu of a crime committed by some of their male

relatives”. That assurance was followed by parading nine women,

cloaked in black from head to toe, on the official state TV channel,

al-Iraqiya, as a gesture of the regime’s “good will”.

Protesters and Iraqi human rights organizations estimate that there

are as many as 5,000 female detainees. The truth is leaking out, drip

by drip. A few weeks ago, 168 women detainees were released and

there were promises of another 32 waiting to be released. No one

accused of torture, rape or abuse has yet been brought to justice.

And it was all supposed to be so different. That was what Iraqi

women were promised.

A political quota system, established in post-invasion Iraq, was

designed to ensure that at least 25% of the members of the parliament

were women. That was applauded as a great achievement of the

“New Iraq” – compared with 8% female representation under Ba’athist

regime. But this token statistic has repeatedly been trotted out to

cover up the regime’s crimes against women.

In reality, the al-Maliki government has since dispensed with the

quota for government posts: there is only one woman minister among

44 positions. But even this appointment contains a grim irony:

the minister for women’s affairs, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, didn’t hesitate to


“I am against the equality between men and woman.

If women are equal to men, they are going to lose a lot.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many women’s organisations have

demanded the abolition of the ministry of women’s affairs after

the minister adopted a position against, rather than for,

women’s rights.

Human rights, including women’s rights, are a litmus test for

democracy. Statements by senior officials, including the prime

minister himself, show that – contrary to what some Iraqis had

hoped for – the “liberators” have actually set the conditions for

the continuity of injustice. And that, in turn, gives rise to extremism.


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