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Iraqi women- The new target of “The Salvador Option”

Posted By Philippe Khan

"Before the U.S. occupation, Iraq was a dictatorship, it was not perfect, but there was security, women could go to work, could go out. What little protections for women there were before the occupation are now gone," Houzan Mahmoud, a representative of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), was quoted by Inter Press Service as saying.

Contrary to claims by the U.S., whose armies came to Iraq to liberate it from the oppression of the former Iraqi leader, women were treated better during Saddam’s rule- they were protected and their rights were far more respected than they are under the occupation.

But their sufferings and the true extent of gender-based violence are continuously being underreported. 

While women rights activists and the whole world are celebrating the International Women's Day, Iraqi women are increasingly suffering radical ideological factions, gender-based violence, as well as being marginalized.

"Often, the problems are simply psychological. They come to talk about their husbands who have been killed or being driven out of their neighborhoods," AFP quoted Fatima, a 55-year-old Baghdad gynecologist, as saying as she described the needs of the war-weary women crowding her bare waiting room.

Asked whether the situation was getting worse for Iraqi women? Fatima replied saying:

"Of course, of course, of course," 

"Pregnant women can't go to hospital if they go into labor during the overnight curfew. More and more of them are dying, along with their babies," she said, apologizing for not having precise statistics.

MADRE, an internationally active women's human rights organization, has uncovered in its report which was released by Inter Press Service the extent of increasing gender-based violence as well as the suffering endured by Iraqi women that ranges from abductions, public beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, honor killings, domestic abuse, torture in detention, beheadings, shootings and public hangings, among others.

"Women are not only being targeted because they are members of the civilian population, women — in particular those who are perceived to pose a challenge to the political aspirations of their attackers — have increasingly been targeted simply because they are women," the OWFI representative Houzan said, at a panel discussion that coincided with the launch of the "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the U.S. War on Iraq".

The report also shed light on the systematic gender-based violence practiced by Iraqi extremists who rose to power following the U.S. occupation that ousted the former leader of the country, Saddam Hussein. 

The report also throws a considerable amount of the blame on the U.S. occupation which it said has played a key role in the current abuse of women right in the war-torn country.

"Contrary to its rhetoric and its legal obligations under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the (George W.) Bush administration has refused to protect women's human rights in Iraq. In fact, it has decisively traded women's rights for cooperation from the Islamists whom it boosted to power," said Yifat Susskind , MADRE communications director and author of the report said.

Iraqi women's basic rights were far more protected and respected during the ousted Iraqi President’s rule. Their rights were guaranteed in the constitution and some women even occupied key government posts. 

Today, and under the merciless American occupation and the chaos that hit the country as a result, Iraqi women lost almost all of their rights. 

Before the March 2003 occupation, Iraqi women were free to go to schools, universities and work, but now and as a result of the deteriorating security situation in the country, and the repression by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, women are forced to stay in their homes.

The United Nations report that three-quarters of Iraqi women are illiterate, compared to only 44 percent of men. 

Women’s suffering has been further presented by the UN as well as many international rights groups.

For instance Amnesty International listed many attacks on women which started shortly after the war broke out nearly four years ago, attacks that didn’t get the needed attention from the occupation authorities who failed to contain such violence before it intensifies.

Women's organizations operating in Iraq reported that militias "are taking revenge on each other by raping women".

Christian women also became target of rape and assassination, part of the worsening civil tension that began when the occupation started

Armed militias from both sides of the sectarian divide have stepped up attacks against women from each other’s communities, adding to the sectarian strife that’s threatening to develop into a bloody civil war in Iraq and may be the entire Middle East region.

But most complaints of gender-based violence said they came from Shia-led militias affiliated with the U.S.-backed government.

According to IPS, those militias, trained and equipped by the U.S. occupation under the policy referred to as “The Salvador Option” extended their terror operations to target women not just fighters and men.

For the international community to understand the true extent of the Iraqi crisis, it’s important to also discuss violence against women, which could speed up a possible civil war in the country, once united and protected under the Saddam regime.

Very few organisations are working to improve the lives of suffering women in Iraq. That could be attributed to the fact that no international agency is capable now of doing its work in the violence-ravaged country safely.

There have been numerous reports about Iraqi institutions often being forced to close up shop. 

True that all Iraqis, male or female, are sharing the same outcome of the occupation of their country, which has become void of any security or stability, but women's rights have particularly been SLAUGHTERED


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