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The Iraq mess and the rights of women

Jon Perr over at the great blog Perrspectives has a post up that should stir up much discussion. Have a read and come back for my thoughts; Here’s a snippet of Jon’s commentary and headers of his 10 point plan for Iraq below. It’s clear that the level of importance of the issue of women’s rights, varies along the political spectrum and gender lines.

The key question for the United States is no longer Cindy Sheehan’s “why did my son die for?” but “what is to be done now?” With rising U.S. casualties, an emboldened insurgency, American credibility in tatters and no end in sight, any plan forward must define what, at this late date, can be said to constitute “success” in Iraq and whether or not success so defined is still be possible. If not, and if American defeat is inevitable, we should cut our losses begin to withdraw now.

Salvaging Iraq, I believe, will be difficult, but not impossible. To win back the confidence both of the American people and the international community, we must be frank about past mistakes. More importantly, to have any hope of “winning” in Iraq, the United States must be crystal clear about the conflict’s objectives and brutally honest about the sacrifices required. Short of that, the American effort in Iraq is doomed – it will only be a question of when.

What Is To Be Done: A 10-Point Plan for Iraq

1. Offer An Honest Assessment
2. Define Success
3. Decide: Is “Success” Still Possible?
4. Announce a Contingent Timetable for Withdrawal
5. Commit the Needed Troops and Resources
6. Give Up Permanent Bases In Iraq
7. Promote Transparency in the Iraqi Oil Industry
8. Accept the New Constitution and Government, Come What May
9. Prioritize the Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis
10. Apologize


I generally agree with Jon’s points. The one I do not, is of course, # 8: The one I do not, is probably one you guessed, # 8:

8. Accept the New Constitution and Government, Come What May

The delay in the proposed Iraqi constitution doesn’t necessarily mean that many of the thorniest issues will be resolved to Washington’s liking. Women’s rights may well be curbed. The regional division of oil revenues and a potentially federal structure for Iraq could lead to conflict and crack-up among the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. Some manner of sharia law, or at least prohibitions on laws that contradict Islam, is still likely.

With all of these outcomes, there is very little the United States can do. No Democrat or Republican wants to see these things come to pass, but at this late, stability and legitimacy, and not Western constitutional purity, are the best that can be hoped for. Remember that the U.S. can attribute what little progress there is to Ayatollah Sistani’s 2004 insistence on and support for direct elections to produce an interim Iraqi government. If Iraq ultimately goes the route of “one man, one vote, one time”, there is little in reality the United States can do about it.

Jon agrees that women’s rights are indeed important, and that the Administration is wrong-headed about the entire approach to crafting the draft constitution, so he’s taking what he feels is the only logical approach.

It may be useful to try and think pragmatically, but it’s easy to speak this way when you are not from an oppressed group, or in this case a group — Iraqi women — that is looking down the barrel of a gun of Sharia law about to blast basic rights away. The path this constitutional draft is currently heading in regards to women’s rights is unacceptable.

Bush has repeatedly talked about democracy AND freedom. Freedom includes women’s rights if I’m not mistaken. I think it’s unfortunate to say that “there is very little the United States can do” when none of its citizens are about to lose basic civil rights. Why in god’s name is it expected that a nearly destroyed country such as Iraq must take only a few brief months to craft a document that is to serve future generations of Iraqis, not the U.S.’s desire to get out ASAP because it fucked up.

South Africa took almost five years to work out a final constitution, and it wasn’t a country blown to shreds. It was, however, a country made up of many races, religions and factions that united to craft a document that everyone could agree on. Even the rights of gays and lesbians are protected. That couldn’t have been an easy negotiation.

The least the U.S. can do, since it created this artificial situation, is to mediate, push and cajole the factions that would take away basic rights from its women and result in, among other things (pulling from Ms. Julien’s post that I excerpted):
1. Not be allowed an education (even writing or reading in most cases)
2. Not be allowed to drive
3. Not be allowed to be seen anywhere outside their homes without the shroud of a burka
4. If a woman is raped, she will be the criminal, not the man who raped her
5. Under Islamic law, if a women is even accused of adultery, she is killed -usually by a father or brother or uncle, and this is okay – women are not allowed into a court to defend themselves

…and much more.

That’s NOT OK. Colin Powell was right about one thing — “You break it, you own it.” I don’t want our troops there a day longer than they are needed, but if basic human rights for women is what our government is willing to toss overboard as a means to get out, I cannot go on board with this.

The fact is, many Iraqi women are voicing their opinions about these grave concerns, and many more are probably too scared to say anything because of the anticipation by men that they will “regain control” of women again via Sharia law. That’s a powerful motivation for some voices to be heard above others.

Truly, it’s disingenuous at this stage for those on the left or right to say that the U.S. shouldn’t impose its ideals on Iraq. Our President certainly didn’t seem to have that in mind when he imposed a death sentence on thousands of Iraqis by bombing the crap out of their country. We’re talking about basic human rights here, not rights over profits from an oil field. Women in Iraq deserve better than to watch what rights they do have evaporate back to pre-Saddam days. The American people, especially the men and WOMEN in the military fighting over there, putting their lives on the line; they deserve to see their government willing to put its money where its mouth is when it talks about spreading “freedom” and democracy.

What the Bush administration refuses to do is to frame the need for equal civil rights in Iraq as something all parties _should want_, and for all sides to justify the rollback of rights for an entire class of people. That, I believe can be done, but it will take time. And time is not what the Bush admin (or, sadly, some folks on the right and left) wants to spend on this issue, because it is difficult.

All of this stems from the artificial situation that BushCo has set up. My question is, why can’t the terms be changed, given the fact that so much is in the air? Dissolve the assembly and start over. There is no shame in wanting to do this right — clearly the Iraqis would recognize that they need more time, and that settling on a document no one is happy with is setting the entire process to fail. They know it, and Bush knows it, so why not move the goalposts?

It’s all about all sides not wanting to admit mistakes, in the end. It’s the whole enchilada. And flushing women’s rights down the toilet that’s the price to be paid — none of those men who will end up in power have to suffer t
he consequences of Sharia law. Get our troops out and let the whole situation deteriorate even further, because of “war fatigue”, sinking polls and the fact Chimpy had no post-war plan.

Will Bush let this slide? I’m sure he is willing to. After all, he and the AmTaliban have shown nothing but contempt for personal freedom, be it access to contraception, to getting into the private business over whether Terri Schiavo’s plug should be pulled. The sad truth is I’m sure many Dems are willing to cut and run, since it wasn’t their guy in office that f*cked it all up. That’s small comfort to the women of Iraq.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding