It's Women's Day in Iraq, again, but not the bread-and-roses kind of day women want. The fact is, since the US invasion, every day has been a sick-and-twisted kind of women's day in that country -- a day on which Iraqi women's rights and their lives are under assault.
In the four months following the US invasion and occupation, women's rights groups estimate that some four hundred women were abducted and raped. At the time, the violence was blamed on the general breakdown of society, but there were always women warning that the killings weren't chaotic, they were systematic, and they heralded something worse.
They were right. A new report from the international women's human rights organization MADRE makes the case that gender-based violence is rampant and made worse by the US presence. As Houzan Mahmoud of the Organization for Women's Freedom, told a MADRE-organized press conference this week at the United Nations, reliable data is hard to gather in Iraq, but when OWFI visited a hospital in Basra last October they found 100 women's corpses, many showing evidence of torture. "The bodies were mutilated and unclaimed because families are too scared to pick them up."
The violence isn't a detail, it's strategic, said MADRE's Yifat Susskind (the author of the group's report.) "Gender based violence is central to the Islamists' agenda to create a theocratic state." The targets aren't just any women, but women whom the killers' claim flout Islamic law--other targets include artists and LGBT Iraqis--anyone whose continued existence doesn't suit the kind society the Islamists want. The media report the killings (as they did this week, when reporters covered attacks on a historic Baghdad book-market,) but they don't connect the dots. Why are militias bombing intellectuals? Because they're secular, says Susskind. For the same reason they've been beating and beheading women who refuse to cover their head.
While politicians in DC dodge and dart around the role that US troops play in Iraq, they'd be well-advised to read MADRE's Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy. All this guff about "protecting" Iraqis obscures the reality that for four years now, US forces haven't policed killers, they've unleashed them.
"The transformation of Iraq into an Islamist state is often characterized as one of numerous "unintended consequences" of US decision making since 2003." MADRE reports. "But the US has long viewed the religious right as a strategic ally in the Middle East." In Iraq, the US actively cultivated Shiite militias to help battle the Sunni-led "insurgency." The State Department even had the gall to call the policy of training and equipping Islamist death squads "The Salvador Option," reminding one that Iraq is hardly the first war in which the Pentagon has sacrificed the security of people for a fantasy of permanent military bases and (in Iraq's case oil-) profits.
The winds are changing in Washington. As journalists Patrick Cockburn and Seymour Hersh have been writing, the US is getting nervous about Iran and Shiites and they've begun to funnel money to Sunni jihadists to push back. What's next, a cozying up to the Taliban or Al Qaeda? Of one thing you can be sure, it won't be a concern for women's rights that holds anyone back.
MADRE (on whose board I'm proud to sit) and their sister group, OWFI somehow manage to run safe houses in Iraq and an underground railroad to help victims escape. If you're going to pay your war taxes the least you could do is send them a check. Then tune in Saturday when Patrick Cockburn will be our guest on RadioNation.