One Thing Sunni and Shi'a
Militas Can Agree On: Suppress Women
by A. Yasmine
Rassam and Jennifer Lynch
Ms. Rassam is director of
international policy at the Independent Women's Forum. She recently gave
a lecture about "Women's
Participation in the Democratization Processes in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Achievements and Challenges."
Ms. Lynch is a graduate of the
School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Junior Fellow
at the Independent Women's Forum.
For all this talk about the impending "civil war"
in Iraq between Shi'a and Sunni militias, there is one thing both can
agree on: suppress the women. These death squads, both Sunni and Shi'a,
form the most serious threat to a democratic peaceful Iraq and disarming
these vigilante militias ranks first on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's
list of priorities. At his request, President Bush has pledged thousands
of additional troops to help quell the burgeoning violence in Baghdad.
Despite staunch objections from many Democrats, this is exactly what
needs to be done to stop the reign of terror on Iraqi women.
A Shi'a militia, which enjoys the backing of the Islamic Republic of
Iran, currently controls the southern city of Basra. The women of Basra
have all but disappeared. Women have had their heads shaved for
venturing in public without a hijab. Women have been stoned for wearing
makeup and kidnapped or even murdered simply for behavior deemed
'inappropriate' by the militias. In the eyes of these vigilante death
squads, 'inappropriate behavior' includes driving, working, wearing
pants, or walking alone. The stranglehold of Muqtada al-Sard's Mehdi
army means hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women are living in daily
terror. If the U.S. is serious about the War on Terror, these women are
on the frontlines and in desperate need of our support.
The situation is just as brutal in Baghdad where Sunni militias
apparently strive not to be outdone by their Shi'a counterparts in terms
of the amount of terror they can bring to women. Zarqawi's al-Qaeda
cells, apparently unfazed by his death, continue to terrorize the
innocent civilians in Baghdad, especially women. Dozens of women and
their families have been forced to seek refuge from the violence and
oppression in camps on the outskirts of the city. Fatwas have been
issued against women driving, going out after midday, and walking with
men. These fatwas are then enforced by thugs driving around and shooting
women who refuse to comply.
The director of the National Organization of Iraqi Women was shot in
June and the office burned. In the western Baghdad neighborhood of
Amariya, militias distributed fliers warning women they will be killed
if they drive a car. The women of Iraq are now utterly dependent on the
men in their family. Millions of widows, who don't have a male escort,
can't venture out in public and are consequently sentenced to destitute
poverty and virtual imprisonment in their homes. Even in wealthy
districts of Baghdad women have been killed for appearing outside
unveiled; the lucky ones escaped with merely a shaved head. Iraqi women
have come to fear death, not from bombs, but because of their fashion
statements. The militias are systematically intimidating women and
The stakes are high in Iraq. The consequences of failing are
unimaginable for the more than 13 million women of Iraq. The U.S. has a
responsibility to these women. Their political freedoms have grown
exponentially since the ousting of Saddam, but these are meaningless
without the equivalent level of social and economic freedoms. The
prerequisite for the establishment of these freedoms is ensuring a
minimum level of security in the region. This can only be accomplished
by donating more resources and systematically disarming the renegade
militias and death squads.
A U.S. withdrawal would result in an upgrade of the situation in Iraq to
the Taliban revisited. Women will be treated not as human beings but as
property or animals. We are not continuing to fight just to save face,
or for oil, or for our interests in the region, or American hegemony.
This is a war for the defense of women's humanity, and we can not afford
to quit and we can not afford to lose.