Iraq's Second-Class Citizens
Posted on: Thursday, August 18, 2005
This article was published by TomPaine.com.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Associate Director
This week’s constitutional crisis in Baghdad demonstrates again that the Bush administration’s drive to recreate the Middle East in its own image is producing theocracy, not democracy, in Iraq. On Bush’s watch, Iraq’s once-secular government has been delivered to religious parties (Dawa and the Prime Minister’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) that want Iraq to be ruled by Islamic law. In the provinces they control (which make up roughly half the country), Islamists have already imposed severe restrictions on the rights of women and religious minorities. Now, they are fighting to ensure that Iraq’s new constitution paves the way for the creation of an Islamic state.
Like religious fundamentalists in the United States and around the world, these parties use religion as a means of asserting a reactionary political agenda that begins with the subjugation of women within the family. That’s why the first battle over the new constitution concerns family status laws governing marriage, divorce and women's inheritance and property rights. The Islamists are pushing to replace Iraq’s current statutes—among the most progressive in the Middle East—with language that would subordinate women’s human rights to arbitrary interpretations of Islamic law.
The Bush administration bears direct responsibility for this crisis. Prior to the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Iraqi women in exile warned that religious extremists would step into any political vacuum created by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But rather than support Iraq’s formidable women’s movement and other democratic forces, the United States chose the politically expedient route of courting right-wing extremists. In summer 2003, Bush appointee Paul Bremmer—who headed the U.S. administration in Iraq—hand-picked several reactionary Muslim clerics to sit on the Iraqi Governing Council, empowering leaders with a stated commitment to restricting women's rights. Then, in the period leading up to this year’s election of the National Assembly, Bremer derailed a series of demands by Iraqi women's organizations, including calls to create a women's ministry; appoint women to the drafting committee of Iraq's interim constitution; guarantee that 40 percent of U.S. appointees were women; and pass laws codifying women's rights and criminalizing domestic violence, which has skyrocketed under U.S. occupation.
The administration’s decision to trade women's rights for support from religious conservatives has left Iraqi women worse off today under U.S. occupation then they were under the notoriously repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. The Ba'ath Party utilized women's rights only to consolidate its own power. Yet, for all its brutality, Saddam Hussein’s government guaranteed women’s rights to education, employment, freedom of movement, equal pay for equal work and universal day care, as well as the rights to inherit and own property, choose their own husbands, vote and hold public office. Ironically, these fundamental rights stand to be abolished in an Iraq “liberated” by the United States in the name of (among other things) promoting democracy.
Like all internationally recognized rights, women’s human rights are non-negotiable. That they have become a political football signals disaster not only for women, but for all Iraqis. Indeed, after two and a half years of U.S. occupation, it is doubtful that any rights at all will be protected by the new Iraqi government, which this week reinstated executions by hanging and now stands accused of torturing prisoners.
Despite the grim reality, the Bush administration’s rhetoric remains right on target: Last month, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, came out strongly against the attempt to roll back women’s rights in the constitution. But his very next move was to try and railroad the drafting process, demanding conformity to the arbitrary, U.S.-imposed August 15 deadline over any meaningful democratic process. This failure to recognize the interdependency of women’s rights and genuine democracy is a clear indication that the Bush administration is committed to neither.
Archives"Press Room" Home 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
Kaitlyn Soligan, Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE Makes News
The G8's PR Strategy on Rape in Conflict (Women Under Siege, June 18, 2013)
Peace advocates speak out against U.S. military intervention in Syria (Women News Network, June 14, 2013)
Syrie : Fuir les combats armés pour faire face aux violences sexuelles dans les camps de réfugiés (Opinion Internationale, June 5, 2013)
Historic Guatemala Dictator Conviction Thrown Out for Now (AlterNet, May 27, 2013)
Women in post-earthquake Haiti: moving beyond survival (Open Democracy, May 26, 2013)