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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arab Rhythms: Iraqi Women & the Failures of U.S. occupation in Iraq

http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/media/Iraqi-woman.jpg



By Briana Booker

Iraqi Women & the Failures of U.S. occupation in Iraq
Introduction
The year 2003, President George W. Bush and his administration launched a war in Iraq. The agenda of the war in Iraq was to stop the production and use of potential weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and to stop the growth of terrorist organizations within Iraq (Sadiq 2009). According to Sadiq (2009), The U.S marketed its occupation in Iraq as a mission to establish democracy. To achieve democracy the Bush administration believed it must liberate Iraqi Women to liberate Iraq as a whole.         
Bush stated during International Women’s week in 2004 the following:                                          
“The advance of women’s rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable…the advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights, new hopes to women there,” (Sadig 2009, 1).                                                                                                    
 Iraqi citizens, especially Iraqi Women, truly believed in this new hope – an opportunity for true liberty and fair opportunity in the social, economic and political spectrum of Iraq. U.S occupation in Iraq was seen as a means for the Iraqi people to escape the shackles of the Iraqi regime. However, the U.S liberation movement in Iraq resulted in, according to Sadiq, (2007) a horrible backlash on Iraqi Women and establishing democracy in Iraq. Since the September 11th attacks in 2001, “The deaths of 3,000 human beings [have been] used to legitimize a long series  of human rights abuses, atrocities and wars that would lead to the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians,”(Sadig 2007, 215).  The result of this prejudice increased the number of political and religious extremists- fighting in the name of Islam or fighting against the cruelty of imperialism. Iraq no longer was a regime but a failed state of oppression, economic sanctions and violence that have framed the lives of its citizens, especially women. Now, Iraq is worse off than before U.S occupation.  The liberation of women and Iraq has failed. Why has this happened?
Explanations                                                                                                   
I believe the liberation of women and Iraq has failed under U.S. occupation because the invasion of Iraq was never about improving the welfare of Iraqi Women and Iraq but about U.S’s economic and geo-political interest. This is when I decided to research why the liberation of women and Iraq has failed under U.S occupation.                                                                       
 Research implies the potential reason for failure of the liberation of women and Iraq by the U.S is that the goal to liberalize women and create a democracy in Iraq was a huge fa├žade. The invasion of Iraq, in the eyes of the Arab world, appeared to be a symbol of the U.S demonstrating their super-power stature.  An example Sadiq (2007) used in her book was when CBS news Donald Rumsfeld stated that the Defense Secretary wanted the U.S military to go after Saddam Hussein, not just Osama Bin Laden, to make a big demonstration to the Arab World that the U.S could easily destroy power and influence of authorities in the region. The phrases used were ‘Go massive,’ and ‘sweep it all up. Things related and not,” (Sadiq 2007, 215). These are not words in reference to saving lives and freeing people from oppression. Statements such as this, made some Iraqi women skeptical and cynical about whether liberalizing Iraqi women and Iraq was the U.S’ real agenda. Skeptical Iraqi women believed the U.S occupation was to protect the U.S. business and oil interest mainly. Also, Skeptical Iraqi women believe the U.S occupation in Iraq has an agenda to protect Israel and its Zionist interest (Sadiq 2007). However, other Iraqi women greatly support U.S. occupation because they believe, in the long term, that the U.S. will establish democracy, human rights and liberation for Iraqi women and Iraq (Sadiq 2007).                                                                                                               
Iraqi women supporting this opinion believe the U.S’purpose in Iraq is for liberty and justice. They define U.S soldiers as “brave” defenders of liberty. But since 2005, the security of Iraq has greatly declined as violence has sky rocketed. According to Sadiq’s (2007) interviews with Iraqi women, “Any sense of hope and cautious optimism has turned to despair, anger, and a great sense of helplessness (Sadiq 2007, 217).Interviews with skeptical, educated Iraqi women, suggest, if  the U.S occupation goal was to overthrow the regime, the U.S would have assassinated Saddam Hussein. One interviewed Iraqi woman of the name Amal G. stated:
“What kind of liberation is this? I am afraid to go to university now. I had to start wearing the hijab. What they are doing to our country makes the past look good,” (Sadiq 2007, 217).
Amal made this remark after telling a story on how U.S soldiers watched thieves steal hospital beds. She implied that the U.S Soldiers could have easily stopped the thieves, but they simply did not care enough to stop the culprits.  But what made her certain the U.S occupation in Iraq was not for the welfare of  Iraqi women or Iraq was that the soldiers told her they were only there to protect the ministry of oil and ministry of the interior (Sadiq 2007,223). But the Iraqi women strongly believed, under international law, the purpose of U.S soldiers being on duty in Iraq is to keep order. This means they should intervene when murder, pillage and rape are occurring daily in Iraqi society. As a result of U.S soldiers not intervening to maintain social order, poverty and death has risen. Moral values have demised.                                                 
According to Sadiq (2007) Human Rights Watch released a report on climate of fear that indicated that kidnapping and sexual violence towards females is growing greatly in Iraq. Women have become afraid to leave their homes to go to school, work, and hospitals, virtually anywhere. Iraqi women are being sold as labor and sex slaves throughout the Arab world (Sadiq 2007, 228).  The most popular sex trafficking exporting are to Yemen, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf countries. Iraqi women said before U.S occupation they could avoid being raped and kidnap by avoiding certain regions of Iraq. But now, Gangs target any woman, in any area of town because the criminals know there is no higher authority beyond them.  But in addition to Gang violence, women are abused and murdered by their own families.                                                               
 Iraqi families are now doing more honor killings since rape occurrences have increased.  According to Amnesty International (2010), in 2008 117 Iraqi women were submitted to honor killings. Perpetrators are not punished often for these heinous crimes (Amnesty International 2010). These honor killings are done to minimize the shame that rape brings to families. This type of violence is acceptable because the U.S soldiers do nothing to subdue the lawlessness and chaos of Iraq.                                                                                           
 The U.S occupation failed to improve the quality of life of women and the public security within Iraq. They have not helped the local police force to establish civil order. The local police are poorly managed and inadequate as a legal and trustworthy authority. According to Sadiq (2007), since the police force has not been able to successfully establish itself, Islamist militias have infiltrated them (Sadiq 2007, 230). The local authority are now labeled illegitimate and justice is no where to be found.                                                                                                       
The U.S does not feel accountable for the violence and instability that are happening in Iraq. The U.S does not feel responsible for the Iraqi people. According to the human rights organization Code-Pink (2010), during a recent International Women’s day, U.S’ occupation in Iraq is an ‘illegal and immoral’ cause.  Less than $600 million has been given to Iraqis for basic health services, education and emergency relief (Code-Pink 2010).  According to Sadiq (2007) the U.S has not done much to reconstruct Iraq into a stable country. Instead, Iraqi women have told Code-Pink that U.S bombs have killed families, and torture and abuse have grown. Iraqi women have made remarks that the U.S occupation has been a ‘major’ element of the vast violence and lack of security inside Iraq (Sadiq 2007, 233). U.S soldiers have raped Iraqi women.  According to Sadiq (2007) ,this was revealed in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that showed 13 cases of rape and abuse of Iraqi women detained by U.S soldiers. No legal action has been taken upon these U.S soldiers or civil officials. They have also abused and tortured Iraqi men and children. This is the reason why some Iraqi women look on the past Saddam Hussein regime as the ‘glorious past’ (Sadiq 2007, 233).                                                    
 According to a prestigious Iraqi Blogger of the name RiverBend (2007), who interviewed Iraqi women who had been raped by U.S Soldiers, the U.S has lost the respect and reputation they previously had with Iraqi people. She said the U.S Soldier’s lost their good reputation when they laid down the first democratic government foundation of Iraq with murders, looters, gangsters and militia (RiverBend 2007)[1]. These atrocities by U.S soldiers have helped increase dress code restrictions upon Iraqi women in hope they are less targeted for rape and killings. For example, any girl who does not wear a hijab at school can be a victim of chemical burning to her face.  It is obvious that the government is ineffective in protecting the liberties of Iraqi women and other citizens because financial and social supports are not being accomplished. All that has manifested since the U.S occupation is misery.                                                                    
According to Sadiq (2007) liberation of Iraqi women has not happen because the U.S uses the same sectarian government tactics Saddam Hussein used to divide and oppress people in the region. The only difference between the regime before and U.S occupation now is that the U.S does not pressure women to reproduce to build up a military(Sadiq 2007, 233). Instead, U.S occupation has promoted brain drain within Iraq. According to Amnesty International (2010), under U.S occupation educated and skilled Iraqi women are being targeted most often in killings. For example, in 2009 17 women out of 900 Iraqis have been placed on death row without potential for further appeals (Amnesty Int. 2010). But from research, it appears if women were promoted to hold positions in government, be doctors and lawyers, then Iraq may be in a better condition than its present state.  This conclusion is seen as valid according to Al-Jawaheri (2008), because most jobs held by women before U.S occupation were supported by the Iraqi government through the public sector (Al-Jawaheri 2008, 30). The Iraqi government even supported effort to equalize payment wages of Iraqi women. They were self-employed, worked in private or family enterprises and worked in public services.  They were able to help financially stabilize their families and themselves. Now, since the government has failed, women do not have any advantages in the work force. Iraqi women have noticeably lower wages and work conditions than men (Al-Jawaheri 2008).  The Brain drain of Iraq is rising. According to Amnesty International (2010), there have been about 2.7 million displaced citizens in Iraq and 1.5 million are refugees in surrounding countries (Amnesty 2010).  The reason this has happened is based on women not having a good quality of life in Iraq under U.S occupation.  They are not able to nurture their husbands, children, or themselves. This has recently been correlated with the overall low quality of life in Iraq- no employment, no access to clean water and no effective health care are available. The U.S occupation of Iraq has failed the Iraqi women and their people.
Conclusion
Researching the reason the liberation of women and Iraq has failed under U.S. occupation, I have discovered that liberation has failed because U.S. occupation in Iraq is not about improving the welfare of Iraqi women but protecting U.S economic and geo-political interest. This has been revealed in how the U.S government rarely helped build up strong public services that provide needs and wants of the Iraqi people. Iraqi women and the larger population of citizens in Iraq are very passionate about religious and social traditions that define honor and dignity in their society. The U.S is not capable of meeting the needs of Iraqi people to have a functioning, legitimate democratic government. Nor does the U.S help liberate Iraqi women because they do not promote women being in official government offices or be community leaders and builders. The U.S occupation has stripped them of their honor and dignity by infesting the Iraqi government with corrupt and violent officials.  The Iraqi women and their people have no voice in their own society. Iraqi women were the hope for Iraqi people to have a democracy when the U.S occupation of Iraq happened. But when the U.S occupation became an invasion through murder, rape, and pillaging that dream was lost.  Arab world perception sees U.S occupation in Iraq as another historical example of the epidemic of western neo-colonialism. According to Hammond (1988), the Arab world “Pity the Iraqi civilians who must still suffer a great deal more before they are finally liberated,” (Hammond 1988, 91). No matter how dreadful the future looks, Iraqi women still have hope that their society can someday have a healthy, functional government and social order. Iraqi women seeing their homes as sacred believe that is where the healing will start. When that happens they can successfully and actively participate in their government, economic, and religious environments.  But this liberation of Iraqi women will have to truly start and end with them, not U.S forces or corrupt Iraqi authority. This is why the liberation of Iraqi women and the Iraqi people have failed, and this will be the same reason women must shape their world into one that gains and protects their rights- freedom and justice for all.





Check out these reads for more information on Iraqi women and the struggle to establish true freedom and justice in the Arab world.

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