Friday, March 18, 2011






Starting with Medea Benjamin. Medea, what's wrong with you? And Charles Davis? Don't you know we're not supposed to remember an illegal war continues in Iraq? Thankfully Medea and Charles ignored the memo and become the most promiment names to remember the Iraq War on this eighth anniversary of the start of it reflecting on ten realities (Huffington Post):
4. Lights Still Out
Thirteen years of bombings and sanctions crippled the infrastructure and basic services of what was once a wealthy country. Then came the 2003 invasion, which destroyed electrical plants, sewage systems, water treatment facilities, hospitals and more. Eight years later, the living conditions of Iraqis are worse than under Saddam Hussein, with the country plagued by a continued lack of electricity, clean water, medical care and security. Iraqis wonder how it is, after the most powerful country in the world occupied it and ostensibly spent billions on reconstruction, they are still living in the dark.
5. Millions Flee Their Homes
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, since 2003 "more than 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes, many in dire need of humanitarian care" -- hardly an endorsement of life in the "liberated" nation. Many Iraqis fled their homes to seek asylum in Iran, Jordan and Syria, while roughly 1.5 million fled to other parts of Iraq, the majority of which "have found no solutions to their plight," according to the UN. In the aftermath of ethnic cleansing, millions will never be able to return.
6. Women and Girls Forced into Prostitution
Women in Iraq have been particularly hit by the invasion and occupation. The Iraqi government estimates there are up to 3 million widows in Iraq today. Meanwhile, violence against women -- including honor killings, rape and kidnapping -- has soared , forcing many women to remain at home and limiting employment and educational opportunities, according to a new Freedom House report. "A deep feeling of injustice and powerlessness sometimes leads women to believe that the only escape is suicide," the report notes.
Many Iraqi women who fled to neighboring countries have found themselves unable to feed their children. Just to make ends meet, tens of thousands of them -- including girls 13 and under -- have been forced into lives of prostitution, particularly in Syria.
"From what I've seen, 70 percent to 80 percent of the girls working this business in Damascus today are Iraqis," one refugee told the New York Times. "If they go back to Iraq they'll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available."
Good for Medea and Charles. And we'll stay on the topic of the Iraqi women a bit more.
William Cox (American Chronicle) observes, "At a cost of more than one trillion dollars, 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' has slaughtered more than 100,000 Iraqis, including thousands of children, and taken away the existing rights of women." This week, Francine Kiefer (Christian Science Monitor) examined the realities of 'free Iraq' for Iraqi women. She noted Freedom House's survey of the years 2005 to 2010 and the five categories they measured. In four of the five, the ratings dropped. Only in voting ("Political Rights and Civic Voice") did things improve -- from 2.2 to 2.6. On their grading scale, a 5 is the highest. Iraq never scored even a three. On "Autonomy, Security, and Freedom of the Peson," it dropped in the five years from 2.6 to 1.9. From the "Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice" section, we'll note the following:
The justice system does not always treat women and men equally, notably in the issues related to honor killings, rape, and personal status law. Article 409 of the penal code offers leniency in honor killing cases, setting a maximum penalty of three years in prison for a man who kills his wife or close female relative and her partner after catching them in an act of adultery. It also deprives the victims of the legal right to self-defense in such situations. Article 130 of the penal code allows penalties of as little as six months in prison for the killing of a wife or female relative for honor-related reasons. Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) Order No. 6 of 2001 extended the application of such mitigated sentences to those who kill third parties for "making reference" to the dishonorable act by the slain woman, and prohibited acts of revenge against the killer.[7]
After 2003, the instances of gender-based violence, including honor killings, soared throughout Iraq. In the southern city of Basra, authorities had recorded a 70 percent increase in such murders in 2008, with 81 reported by late November, resulting in only five convictions.[8] Lawyers who represent the victims of rape and other violence against women receive death threats. Most honor crimes go unreported by the family members, who bury the victims themselves and attribute the deaths to militia violence or other causes. Such families often receive sympathy and tolerance from the police, if not encouragement for doing what they see as the right thing. Perpetrators are released without investigation or charges, and the government remains silent, treating the cases as private matters. This response leaves women paralyzed with fear and vulnerable to daily domestic violence, sexual harassment, and killings. A deep feeling of injustice and powerlessness sometimes leads women to believe that the only escape is suicide.
In 2000, the Kurdish regional government revoked the laws on mitigated sentences for honor crimes and, a year later, made them punishable by up to 15 years in prison. These measures, however, did not apply in the rest of Iraq. In 2008, Narmin Othman, the current Minister of Environment and one-time acting minister of state for women's affairs, led a campaign to make honor killings throughout the country punishable by life imprisonment or death. Although many parliamentarians supported the proposal, they faced opposition from the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance and the Sunni-led Iraqi Accord Front. Party members claimed that such killings of women are permitted under Shari'a.[9]
Articles 19 and 37 of the constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention, as well as all forms of torture or inhumane acts. But many Iraqi women, as well as men, have been unlawfully arrested and detained in crowded prisons for months or years without trial or access to a lawyer. Prisons allow women to keep their children with them if there is no extended family, especially if the child is an infant, and childcare supplies are provided. There are separate prisons for males, juveniles, and females. Still, some female inmates allege that they are sexually assaulted, tortured, beaten, and raped by Ministry of Interior guards and police investigators seeking confessions. According to one report, the women's prison of Kadhamiya in Baghdad was infiltrated by Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), the Shiite militia, and operated as a brothel at night. Its 174 female inmates and 17 children were later relocated to a new women's prison.[10]
March 2nd, Riz Khan addressed the issue of women in Iraq on his self-titled Al Jazeera show:
Riz Khan: I know that you, like Rabab El Mahdi, have also faced a lot of questions that you consider a bit naive or misdirected and I know you wrote a lot about women in Iraq after the US-led invasion.
Dr. Nadje Al-Ali: That's right.
Riz Khan: You get asked questions like what do Iraqi women want How do you tend to respond to those kind of questions?
Dr. Nadje Al-Ali: What do American women want? What do British women want? Uhm, you know, people rarely ask those questions? And I think the moment I ask it back, they realize well we are not a homogenious body, you know, we are different women with different ideas. And, you know, over the last few years, I've always been asked and I told them, "Well there are different Iraqi women with different experiences, different political views and it's not just because of sectarian differences but it's because of class differences, it's because people live in different places around Iraq."
If Iraqi women are seen as a monolithic group, and sometimes they are, it is equally true that other times they're completely ignored. They were ignored by many outlets -- including the New York Times -- when the war started. John F. Burns and Dexter Filkins couldn't be bothered writing about them or even quoting them. Time and again, to read the GoGo Boys of the Green Zone's 'reporting' was to feel Iraq's entire population must consist of men only. Which is not just a shame, it's a distortion. Many Iraqi women were working very hard in attempts to ensure that their voices were heard while rules were being made (by the US government). At the end of last month, Maria Fantappie (Women's Worldwide Web) noted:
OWFI is a grassroots organization aimed at helping women in need, no matter their background or history. OWFI's radio and newspaper -- Al Mousawat, or "Equality" -- gives voice to ordinary women, women whose stories would not otherwise be heard. "People say they do not want to speak about prostitution and consider it a 'shameful' issue to speak about," Houzan observes. "But we should openly discuss all the issues and oppressions women are facing, however 'shameful' these issues may be for some. Otherwise, these women would feel abandoned." She adds: "OWFI's aim is to be there for those women who don't have a life, those who did not receive an education, those who have been forced to become prostitutes, those who are widows, and those who have been beaten, tortured and raped." OWFI strives to empower women, to help them to achieve equality and protect their rights. As Houzan points out, the organization is also concerned to establish a secular constitution "without discriminatory laws against women, such as Islamic Sharia Law."
"In Iraq, some elite women entered politics and were elected to Parliament," Houzan tells us. "But," she laments, "Many of them don't fight for womens rights. For the political parties, these women are just a way of respecting the gender quotas. The women are utterly beholden to their party leadership."
No women took part in the protracted negotiations to reach a compromise government. And despite holding a quarter of the seats in Parliament, only one woman runs a minsitry; women's affairs, a largely ceremonial department with a tiny budget and few employees.
In the previous government from 2006 to 2010, four women led ministries, and in the government from 2005 to 2006, six did, including the influential ones governming public works, refugees and communications.
Today AK News reports that Ministry of State for Women's Affairs announced that the Council of Ministers decided "to allocate a proportion of small loans for women." Which takes us back to the March 2nd, broadcast of Riz Khan:
Riz Khan: Do you see in this new changing landscape of the Middle East that perhaps women can play a greater role as entrepreneurs and perhaps and perhaps improve their situation that way?
Dr. Nadje Al-Ali: Yes, but I think it's a double-edged sword. I mean when we see developments, economic developments in the country like Iraq, there's lots of push for -- new liberal, capitalist push for women and men to become entrepreneurs. This is at the expense of women being involved in the public sector and historically, in the region, women have been much more involved in the public sector. This is at the expense of welfare provisions of the state. So I think it is a very sort of narrow angle to look at it. Yes, women entrepreneurs? Yes, of course it is nice and we have it in the Gulf but I don't think it really addresses the wider issues of socio-economic rights and I'm very concerned about this neoliberal agenda of "let's train some women to become entrepreneurs." And actually, we saw that in Iraq. There was lots of training programs funded by the American government to try to train Iraqi women to become entrepreneurs and I think this is very problematic.
Manal Omar is the author of Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to be a Woman in Chaos. It charts her journey to Iraq, as an American (and an Arab) to help the women of Iraq and what she learned from and of Iraqi women. Manal shares many stories and, Iraq being the site of an ongoing war, they don't all have happy endings. One example:
During one of the visits, a young Iraqi woman accompanied the [US] soldiers as their translator. I had seen many translator before, but something struck me about this woman. She had an aura of strength, and I was impressed by her confidence. She also had a slight limp, and instinct told me this was something new. I found myself staring at her with curiosity.
She caught my eye and smiles. "You are either worndering about my limp, or you are thinking I am some sort of traitor for working with the Americans."
I was embarrassed at having been caught staring and openly confessed, "I am just thinking about how hard it is to be a female translator. I am an American, so I cannot say much to the traitor part."
She laughed and introduced herself as Raghad. She began by telling me how her team had been caught in a roadside bomb on the airport road. I was stunned. She described in detail the events of that horrible day: the sound of the explosion, the eruption of fire, and her realization that she might not make it out alive. She explained to me how, in the last few seconds before she passed out from the pain, her only thoughts were for her twelve-year-old son. Similarly, in the first few minutes after she woke up after a four-month coma, her only desire was to see her son.
"Why are you back at work?" I asked, shocked that after a near-death experience she would temp fate so soon.
"The same reason I took the job in the first place," she answered. Raghad explained that she was a divorced mother, and her parents would not allow her to return to their home with her son. Raghad's husband had been abusive, and she could not bear the idea of leaving her son with him. When she was able to earn a substantial income, her parents had allowed her back in the home. In return, her earnings were given to her father at the end of the month.
Manal Omar notes that Raghad died three months later when she was shot by a sniper.

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