Iraq, where women once had more rights and freedom
than most others in the Arab world, has turned deadly for women who dream of
education and a professional career.
Former dictator Saddam Hussein maintained a relatively secular society, where
it was common for women to take up jobs as professors, doctors and government
officials. In today's Iraq, women are being killed by militia groups for not
conforming to strict Islamist ways.
Basra police chief Gen. Jalil Hannoon told reporters and Arab TV channels in
December that at least 40 women had been killed during the previous five months
in that city alone.
"We are sure there are many more victims whose families did not report
their killing for fear of scandal," Gen. Hannoon said.
The militias dominated by the Shi'ite Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army
are leading imposition of strict Islamist rules. The Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi
government is seen as providing tacit and sometimes direct support to them.
The Badr Organization answers to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC),
the Shi'ite bloc in the Iraqi government. The Mahdi army is the militia of anti-occupation
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Women who do not wear the hijab are becoming prime targets of militias, residents
both in Basra and Baghdad have told IPS in recent months. Many women say they
are threatened with death if they do not obey.
"Militiamen approached us to tell us we must wear the hijab and stop wearing
make-up," college student Zahra Alwan who fled Basra to Baghdad told IPS
Graffiti in red on walls across Basra warns women against wearing make-up and
stepping out without covering their bodies from head to toe, Alwan said.
"The situation in Baghdad is not very different," Mazin Abdul Jabbar,
social researcher at Baghdad University told IPS. "All universities are
controlled by Islamic militiamen who harass female students all the time with
Jabbar said this is one reason that "many families have stopped sending
their daughters to high schools and colleges."
In early 2007 Iraq's Ministry of Education found that more than 70 percent
of girls and young women no longer attend school or college.
Several women victims have been accused of being "bad" before they
were abducted, residents have told IPS in Baghdad. Most women who are abducted
are later found dead.
The bodies of several have been found in garbage dumps, showing signs of rape
and torture. Many bodies had a note attached saying the woman was "bad,"
according to residents who did not give their names to IPS.
Similar problems exist for women in Baquba, the capital city of Diyala province,
40 km northeast of Baghdad.
"My neighbor was killed because she was accused of working in the directorate-general
of police of Diyala," resident Um Haider told IPS in January. "This
woman worked as a receptionist in the governor's office, and not in the police.
She was in charge of checking women who work in the governor's office."
Killings like this have led countless women to quit jobs, or to change them.
"I was head of the personnel division in an office," a woman speaking
on condition of anonymity told IPS in Baquba. "On the insistence of my
family and relatives, I gave up my position and chose to be an employee."
Women's lives have changed, and women are beginning to look different across
most of Iraq. They are now too afraid to wear anything but conservative dresses
modern clothes could be a death warrant. The veil is particularly dominant
in areas under the control of militias.
Women are paying a price for the occupation in all sorts of ways.
"Women bear great pain and risks when militants control the streets,"
Um Basim, a mother of three, told IPS in Baquba recently. "No woman can
move here or there. When a man is killed, the body is taken to the morgue. The
body has to be received by the family, so women often go alone to the morgue
to escort the body home. Some are targeted by militants when they do this."
Confined to home, many women live in isolation and depression.
"Women have nowhere to go to spend leisure time," Um Ali, a married
woman in Baquba, told IPS. "Our time is spent only at home now. I have
not traveled outside Baquba for more than four years. The only place I can go
to is my parents' home. Housekeeping and children have been all my life; I have
no goals to attain, no education to complete. Sometimes, I can't leave home
In northern Kurdish controlled Iraq, "honor killings" continue. In
the ancient tradition of "honor killing," the view is that a family's
"honor" is paramount. As of last December, at least 27 Kurdish women
were murdered on suspicion of having had "illicit" affairs in the
previous four months, according to Youssif Mohamed Aziz, the regional minister
of human rights.
Iraqi women are not spared US military prisons either. In December, Iraq's
parliamentary committee for women's and children's affairs demanded the release
of female detainees in Iraqi and US-run prisons.
According to Nadira Habib, deputy head of the parliamentary committee, there
are around 200 women detained in the Iraqi run al-Adala prison in Baghdad. Habibi
says there are presumably women in US-run prisons too. "But no one knows
how many female detainees are now in prisons run by US forces as they always
refuse requests from our committee to visit them."
As the central government remains essentially powerless, and religious fundamentalism
continues to grow across Iraq, it appears that the plight of Iraqi women will
(Inter Press Service)