Iraq's Other War: Violence against Women Under US Occupation
Posted on: Wednesday, March 7, 2007
A MADRE Opinion Piece
March 7, 2007
Last week, Houzan Mahmoud* opened her e-mail and found a message from Ansar al-Islam, a notoriously brutal Sunni jihadist group. The message read simply, "we will kill you by the middle of March." Houzan is an outspoken Iraqi feminist. The 34-year-old journalist and women's rights activist believes that hope for Iraq's future depends on building a society based on secular democracy and human rights. For this, she has been condemned to death.
Houzan is hardly alone in this regard. Since the US invaded Iraq, women there have endured a wave of death threats, assassinations, abductions, public beatings, targeted sexual assaults, and public hangings. Much of this violence is systematic—directed by both Sunni and Shiite Islamist militias that mushroomed across Iraq after the US toppled the mostly secular Ba'ath regime. We've heard about the brutality of the Sunni-based groups, but much less about the Shiite militias that are the armed wings of the political parties that the US boosted into power. Their aim is to establish an Islamist theocracy and their social vision requires the subjugation of women and the elimination of anyone with a competing vision for Iraq's future.
The "misery gangs" of these Shiite militias now patrol the streets of Iraq's major cities, attacking women who don't dress or behave to their liking. In many places, they kill women who wear pants or appear in public without a headscarf. In much of Iraq, women are virtually confined to their homes because of the likelihood of being beaten, raped, or abducted in the streets. As the occupying power, the US was obligated by the Hague and Geneva Conventions to provide security to Iraqi civilians, including protection from violence against women. But the US military, preoccupied with battling the Iraqi insurgency, simply ignored the reign of terror that Islamist militias were imposing on women. In fact, the US enabled these attacks: in 2005, the Pentagon began providing the Shiite Badr Brigade and Mahdi Army with weapons, money, and military training in the hope that these groups would help combat the Sunni-based insurgency.
Today, we are told that the Shiite militias are a threat, that they have used Iraq's police and security forces to wage a sectarian civil war against Sunnis, and that new formations of radical Shiite groups are attacking US soldiers. Bush's new Baghdad security plan is aimed in part at reigning in the Mahdi Army in particular, though the group has been systematically torturing and killing women for more than three years.
So, has the Bush Administration finally realized that we shouldn't be supporting people who assassinate human rights workers and feminists? Hardly. A new covert White House policy exposed last week by journalist Seymour Hersh is funneling money to Sunni jihadist groups like the one that is threatening Houzan Mahmoud. The idea is to use these groups to combat militant Shiite forces allied with Iran and active in Iraq and Lebanon. It's the same old disastrous logic: support your enemy's enemy—even if they have ties to Al Qaeda.
Houzan Mahmoud is not surprised by this newest twist in Bush's "war on terror." She has seen first-hand that for all its talk of bringing democracy to Iraq, the Bush Administration has traded the rights of more than half of the population—Iraq's women—for cooperation from the Shiite extremists whom it wagered could deliver stability. With those hopes dashed, the Administration is now backing a different horse—one that is just as woman hating and anti-democratic. As Houzan said, "Perhaps Bush's speeches about bringing democracy to Iraq made people in the US feel better about the war. But the US has only replaced Saddam's secular tyranny with an Islamist tyranny. Iraqi women are paying the heaviest price for this and genuine democracy is still a distant dream."
The next two weeks are bracketed by International Women's Day and the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Dedicate this period to listening to Iraqi women like Houzan and you will hear a re-telling of the Iraq war—one that amplifies the truth that women's human rights and democratic rights go hand-in-hand and that the Bush Administration—for all its talk—has only contempt for both.
*Houzan Mahmoud is the international representative of MADRE's partner organization, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.
By Yifat Susskind
Archives"Press Room" Home August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
In Iraq, women 'are the battlefield' (Women Under Siege , August 12, 2014)
Haitian woman faces death threats for speaking out about violence against women (WBEZ Worldview, July 16, 2014)
Media Spotlight Turns Away from Iraq, as Concerns Mount Over Human Rights and Political Stalemate (Uprising Radio, July 11, 2014)
Iraq: The women left behind (Aljazeera, July 3, 2014)
Under Isis, Iraqi women again face an old nightmare: violence and repression (The Guardian, July 3, 2014)