With Isam Rashid
BAGHDAD – The unrest in the wake of Iraq’s failure to form a new government is making life particularly difficult for women.
“There is chaos in Iraq now, and there is danger everywhere,” 27-year-old Nora Ahmed told IPS. The situation has gone “from bad to worse, and only when the occupation ends, women in Iraq will be in a better situation,” said Fatima al-Naddaf.
The women seemed to speak for many others.
Militias and criminals alike have been accused of targeting women in the absence of the authority of a central government.
Fatima al-Naddaf from Women’s Will, an advocacy organization in Baghdad, works to highlight the difficulties faced by women in Iraq. “Before, Iraq was under sanctions, but at least it was a free country, not occupied,” she told IPS. “Iraq is bleeding now from the occupation.”
Women’s Will has been working on women’s issues and also on detention of men. Mass detentions of Iraqi men are endangering women and their children, she says.
Women’s Will is working particularly on the issue of women detained in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. The Iraqi government and the occupation have repeatedly shown a disregard for due process and adequate evidence before making detentions.
“The most dangerous issue facing the Iraqi women is that some of them are being arrested under occupation,” said al-Naddaf. “Until now there are still many Iraqi women in the Abu Ghraib jail.”
Women are looking to the closure of Abu Ghraib jail and continued steps toward solidifying an Iraqi government as a step to establishing security for women.
International Women’s Day passed unnoticed in Iraq this year, but Baghdad resident Jinan Jabbar believes she will be able to celebrate it in the future. “Women in Iraq want the occupation forces to go back home,” she said. “They want to make a new and strong government in Iraq. Then we can celebrate the 8th of March.”
The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq released a statement March 8 that said, “Crimes of the occupation are the major threat to Iraqi women’s rights. Before, women could go to work and study safely; today they are exposed to many threats, such as kidnappings, murder, and rape.”
Women’s Will blamed the occupation for creating a chaotic situation in Iraq. “We charge occupation forces with making a civil war in Iraq,” al-Naddaf told IPS. “Our appeal is asking them to stop violating Iraqi people’s rights in their daily life.”
Sixty-three-year-old Asmaa Ali described her family situation. “My son was killed two weeks ago, and now I feel Iraq has become like a big prison. Before occupation, my sons were soldiers in the Iraqi army, and I worried about them when they were in the Gulf War. And now also I’m worried about the others because everywhere there is killing.”
Women have come to fear Iraqi troops now, she said. “The most dangerous problem Iraqi women face is the uneducated and fanatical Iraqi troops. Because of that, some of the Iraqi women stop trying to educate themselves.”
Asmaa appealed for support from women around the world. “I want to invite them to come to Iraq, to see how Iraqi women suffered before, and how they are still suffering because of occupation.”
The troubles are not all new. Some women speak also of difficulties under the Saddam regime due to the brutal war with Iran and later because of the imposition of sanctions.
And there are also some voices of optimism among women. Jinan Jabbar believes women are in danger, but that in time “Iraq will be better.”
Ahrar Zalzali, a female Iraqi journalist, says the new government has at least shown there are some new possibilities for women. In some respects, the situation of women has improved under the occupation “because women in Iraq are taking on a good place in the Iraqi government.”