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The Global Persecution of Women

United States

Aaron Glantz, U.S. Strategy Undermined Iraq's Women: Report, OneWorld US, 10 Mar. 2007.

SAN FRANCISCO, Mar 10 (OneWorld) - The United States' four-year-old occupation of Iraq has considerably worsened the lives of the country's women, charges a new report from an international human rights group.

The New York-based group MADRE says Iraqi women are enduring unprecedented levels of assault, abductions, public beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, honor killings, domestic abuse, torture in detention, beheadings, shootings, and public hangings.

MADRE's 40-page report, titled "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the U.S. War on Iraq," also argues that the rise of theocratic militias in Iraq is the result of deliberate plans by U.S. officials, not an accidental byproduct of a bungled occupation.

"Rather than support progressive and democratically minded Iraqis, including members of the women's movement," the report reads, "the U.S. threw its weight behind Iraq's Shiite Islamists, calculating that these forces, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein, would cooperate with the occupation and deliver the stability needed for the U.S. to implement its policies in Iraq."

Chief among the groups brought to power by the U.S. invasion is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a theocratic organization whose militia, the Badr Brigades, was trained by the Iranian government.

Immediately after overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration appointed SCIRI leader Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim to the country's Governing Council. The United States then recruited members of the Badr Brigade to join the Iraqi police and military, with terrible results.

"Mainstream media often report that the Badr and Mahdi militias have 'infiltrated' Iraq's Ministry of Interior, which controls the country's police, intelligence, and paramilitary units. More accurately, Iraq's Islamist government, boosted to power by the U.S., placed the ministry in the hands of its militia," reads the MADRE report.

"The Americans have empowered the Shi'ite groups who are now in the so-called Parliament," adds Houzan Mahmoud of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. "Now they feel free to oppress women, to veil them, [and] to bring about Islamic Sharia law."

Mahmoud, who was born in Iraqi Kurdistan but now lives in London, received a death threat last week, which she is taking seriously.

"It said, 'You will be killed by the middle of March, because you have been campaigning against Islam,'" Mahmoud told OneWorld, "and it says Ansar al-Islam, which is a notoriously Islamist jihadist group based in Kurdistan. They've been infamous, basically, for killing and beheading people in the villages in Kurdistan."

Mahmoud says the death threat stems from her support of feminist reforms in Kurdistan's regional Constitution, which Ansar al-Islam opposes.

She says she will continue to fight, however. She spoke to OneWorld while attending an anti-war vigil in London.

"I will attend many other events," she said. "That fatwa or any other events will not force me to give up on my struggle for the rights and freedoms of Iraqi women or any other women elsewhere who are living the oppression of the Islamist militias or governments."

Yifat Susskind, who works in MADRE's New York office, told OneWorld that the actions of women like Houzan Mahmoud give her hope that if the United States withdraws its troops from Iraq the situation could improve.

"Their daily lives are like the worst headlines that we read," she said, "and they're not giving in to despair. They're organizing. They're doing what they can with a very real perspective about what's possible."

Susskind said in past years Iraqi women had organized public demonstrations to commemorate International Women's Day on March 8th, but though the situation in Iraq was too dangerous for a street demonstration Thursday, they didn't give up.

"They did this amazing project, which was to bring together Sunni and Shiite youth," Susskind said.

She said young men and women from Sadr City and other places that are hot-beds of the civil war came together for a music and poetry festival.

"They held this massive party. They denounced this civil war. They reaffirmed their commitment to live as neighbors and as friends and basically refused to be enemies at a time when, if you're reading the New York Times, it's impossible to imagine that there's anybody left in Iraq who'd be doing that," she said.

"That's what gives me hope," she added.


The Global Persecution of Women