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MADRE Releases Report on Gender-Based Violence in Iraq

March 6, 2007–New York–MADRE, an international women's human rights organization, announces the publication of a groundbreaking report on the incidence, causes, and legalization of gender-based violence in Iraq since the US-led invasion. The report, Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq, documents the use of gender-based violence by Islamists seeking to establish a theocratic state and by the US in its efforts to win cooperation from Islamists. It will be released today during the 51st United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, just before International Women's Day (March 8) and the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (March 19).

According to the report, "Under US occupation, Iraqi women have endured a wave of gender-based violence, including widespread abductions, public beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, 'honor killings, ' domestic abuse, torture in detention, beheadings, shootings, and public hangings. Much of this violence is systematic–directed by the Islamist militias that mushroomed across Iraq after the US toppled the mostly secular Ba'ath regime."

Yifat Susskind, MADRE Communications Director and author of the report, commented, "Yesterday's news–the discovery of 30 prisoners in Iraqi intelligence offices, many of whom appeared to have been tortured–brought us another story of the Shiite militias using their control of Iraq's Interior Ministry to wage sectarian war against Sunnis. This has been front page news for over a year. But long before these attacks were making headlines, these same forces were waging a systematic campaign against women–in particular professionals, intellectuals, artists, lesbians, and others who are perceived to pose a challenge to the establishment of an Islamist state. But violence against women is rarely front page news, even when organized attacks against women–like sectarian cleansing–are carried out with weapons, training, and financing provided by the Pentagon through the 'Salvador Option, ' as reported by Newsweek in 2005."

The report also states, "Contrary to its rhetoric and its international legal obligations, the Bush Administration has refused to protect women's rights in Iraq and has decisively traded women's rights for cooperation from the Islamists it has empowered. [Islamist political parties] stepped into the political vacuum created by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and immediately began using their new-found power to roll back women's rights. In fact, under US occupation, violence against women has occurred within the context of a rapid erosion of women's legal rights and political participation. That trend was set in motion by the US-sponsored Iraqi government."

As Yanar Mohammed, director of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a partner organization of MADRE, said, "We used to have a government that was almost secular. It had one dictator. Now we have almost 60 dictators–Islamists who think of women as forces of evil. This is what is called the democratization of Iraq."

In summary, the report underscores how a re-telling of the Iraq war from the perspective of Iraqi women illuminates the strong links between women's human rights and democratic rights in general and the Bush Administration's clear contempt for both.

View the Executive Summary and full report.

Available for interviews:

Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Communications Director, was active in the Israeli women's peace movement for several years and directed a project at a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem before joining MADRE. She has written extensively on US foreign policy and women's human rights; her critical analysis has appeared in online and print publications such as, Foreign Policy in Focus (both not found), and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, published by the Feminist Press in 2004. Ms. Susskind has been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio, and BBC Radio. She is the author of a book on US foreign policy and women's human rights, forthcoming.

Yanar Mohammed is the Director and Founder of MADRE's sister organization, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Under Ms. Mohammed's direction, OWFI has established six women's shelters in Iraq and an Underground Railroad for Iraqi Women to protect women from a sharp rise in gender-based violence since the US invasion. Ms. Mohammed has received death threats for her work to further women's human rights, but she continues to fight publicly against both the US occupation and Islamic fundamentalism. She has appeared frequently in the Iraqi and Arab press, and has been featured as a commentator in major international media, including The New York Times, CNN, and CBS Evening News. Ms. Mohammed lives in Toronto and Baghdad.

Houzan Mahmoud is the International Representative of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, and Editor in Chief of Equal Rights Now, a publication of OWFI. Ms. Mahmoud speaks internationally on behalf of OWFI about the impact of the US occupation and Islamic fundamentalism on women's human rights and women's daily lives. Her analysis has been published by The Guardian and The Independent (not found), and she has been a featured commentator on BBC, CNN, NBC, and other international media outlets. Ms. Mahmoud received a death threat on February 26, 2007 from the notoriously brutal jihadist group, Ansar al-Islam. Originally from Iraqi Kurdistan, Ms. Mahmoud is based in London.