The Hidden War on Women in Iraq

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The rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by American soldiers is a focus of media attention right now, but the larger issue of what’s happened to the majority of Iraqi women in war-ravaged, occupied Iraq goes largely unexamined. Via Tomdispatch, Ruth Rosen takes up a crucial but overlooked question: What has the U.S. “liberation” of Iraq meant for that country’s women?

Like women everywhere, Iraqi women have always been vulnerable to rape. But since the American invasion of their country, the reported incidence of sexual terrorism has accelerated markedly. — and this despite the fact that few Iraqi women are willing to report rapes either to Iraqi officials or to occupation forces, fearing to bring dishonor upon their families. In rural areas, female rape victims may also be vulnerable to “honor killings” in which male relatives murder them in order to restore the family’s honor. “For women in Iraq,” Amnesty International concluded in a 2005 report, “the stigma frequently attached to the victims instead of the perpetrators of sexual crimes makes reporting such abuses especially daunting.”

This specific rape of one Iraqi girl, however, is now becoming symbolic of the way the Bush administration has violated Iraq’s honor; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already launched an inquest into the crime. In an administration that normally doesn’t know the meaning of an apology, the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. both publicly apologized. In a fierce condemnation, the Muslim Scholars Association in Iraq denounced the crime: “This act, committed by the occupying soldiers, from raping the girl to mutilating her body and killing her family, should make all humanity feel ashamed.”

Shame, yes, but that is hardly sufficient. After all, rape is now considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court. …

No one accuses American soldiers of running through the streets of Iraq, raping women as an instrument of war against the insurgents (though such acts are what caused three Bosnian soldiers, for the first time in history, to be indicted in 2001 for the war crime of rape).

Still, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has had the effect of humiliating, endangering, and repressing Iraqi women in ways that have not been widely publicized in the mainstream media: As detainees in prisons run by Americans, they have been sexually abused and raped; as civilians, they have been kidnapped, raped, and then sometimes sold for prostitution; and as women — and, in particular, as among the more liberated women in the Arab world — they have increasingly disappeared from public life, many becoming shut-ins in their own homes.

Read the full article at MotherJones.com.

P.S. David Enders wrote last year from Baghdad for MJ.com on women and sharia in Iraq.

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