No woman, no cry
Photo from Al Watan, an Arab American newspaper.
As some of you know, along with my media work for Firedoglake, I've been helping out at Today in Iraq compiling the news of the day from Iraqi sources (and others) on Saturdays.
As I read through the Iraqi news, I am struck over and over by how rarely, even now, even in "progressive media" we hear the voices of Iraqis, how rarely we take the time to look with our hearts open to the daily lived reality of the people whose country we occupy.
Instead our news is full of the surreal posturing of non-binding resolutions and of tales of what the occupation is doing to "us" — the cost, the troops, our former international prestige. But each day, Iraqi women wake to wonder where they will find enough food, whether their loved ones will be the next body in the morgue, whether their child will be the one whose illness cannot be treated.
So today, let's instead look with a different lens and listen to some Iraqi women and their husbands as they tell their own stories.
We begin with two tales of daily life from the amazing blog, Inside Iraq , kept by the Iraqi staff of the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau:
At last my heart and mind are at rest, until tomorrow. I was waiting for a phone call from my daughter to tell me she is home safely.
She, like thousands of university students in Iraq, is taking her mid-term tests, starting today. They have a fixed schedule, i.e. are sitting ducks – for ten days.
Since the beginning of this academic year, the students in her college have been led quite a dance; a deadly dance. The college is situated in an area that has become more like a war zone than a normal neighborhood; it is too near Haifa Street for it to quiet down for more than a few days at a stretch. They started out by going to college every day. Their college more like a fortress for its security, than an educational facility.
Attack after attack on the surrounding residential area frightened the Dean into improvising a random lecture schedule that allows them to attend their lectures in no pattern that lasts more than one week.
Result: the administrator of the adjoining hospital was abducted, and then killed. Snipers pick inhabitants and students walking from college to hospital or back. One car stops in front of the entrance, lets out one handcuffed young man, waits for him to take a few steps away … and then he is shot, bait, it turned out. Naïve students run to his aid only to be shot at by snipers on a rooftop of a high building in Haifa Street.
My daughter was not more than twenty meters away.
Yesterday I went to the bank.
Wow! I thought. So many people!
Iraqis are not “bank oriented” people, if they have any excess; they tend to keep it at home. Previous experiences have taught us not to trust banks; they have been known to hold on to your money when you need it in a jiffy!
But looking at the numbers inside that bank, I thought, “I have been out of touch; bad girl.”
I go in, only to find people pushing and shoving one another; fighting, shouting and cursing each other. “This is not normal,” I said to myself. I try to reach the employee with whom I have business, but my efforts are to no avail. One human current pushes me this way and another pulls me that. A proper riot!
I began to have serious misgivings. “What is this all about?” I asked a lady who was trying, in vain, to keep from being crushed between two men, to my right, “Have you got any idea?”
“Where do you come from? Don’t you know that the government is giving people relief? At last we are remembered!”
“Really!! That’s excellent!!” It was my good fortune to be at the bank this day! Although half suffocated, I felt elated at being “remembered”.
“How much?” “10 000 Dinars!” (Equivalent to $7.75, purchasing power: 50 eggs).
Another voice, an Iraqi husband – reported by The Guardian – tells of his worry as his pregnant wife approached the birth of their child:
When Ahmad Khidr's wife, Nadia, was close to her pregnancy's full term, the Shia grocer drove her to a friend's house each evening before the curfew began.
"We were terrified she would go into labour during the night," said Ahmad, 23. "I did not want to risk taking her to a hospital at night. But there was a midwife living in the house opposite my friend's house. I would pick her up in the morning and take her home. And in the end the baby did come during the night."
Ahmad and Nadia were sitting playing with Mahdi, now six months old. "It is a headache for everyone having a child. Some people spend two or three nights at the hospital waiting for the baby to be born. But then it is very expensive. It can cost them $500 [£257] in fees even before the mother goes into labour. I am a poor man. I could not afford that. I even had to borrow money for the midwife's fees, so I needed to be sure she was close to a midwife.
Beyond the daily struggles Iraqi women face, there is the threat of rape – and the recent statements of two women who have reported rapes by Iraqi government forces as well as the reports of rape by US soldiers continue to enrage the Iraqi people.
The first rape case was reported by a woman named Sabrin al-Janabi of Baghdad. She had said a few days earlier that she was raped by Iraqi policemen to force her to give confessions. Jimaili's confessions are expected to spark wide-scale reactions against the Iraqi government, which leads a massive security campaign in a bid to control a deteriorating security situation in the country.
Despite the denouncing and local as well as international calls on the Iraqi government to start investigating Janabi's claims, the government denied that the rape had occurred in the first place, saying that the investigations proved that Janabi's claims were groundless.
In an unexpected reaction, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has honored the persons accused of raping Janabi, describing them as "honorable."
I hate the media and I hate the Iraqi government for turning this atrocity into another Sunni-Shia debacle- like it matters whether Sabrine is Sunni or Shia or Arab or Kurd (the Al Janabi tribe is composed of both Sunnis and Shia). Maliki did not only turn the woman into a liar, he is rewarding the officers she accused. It's outrageous and maddening.
No Iraqi woman under the circumstances- under any circumstances- would publicly, falsely claim she was raped. There are just too many risks. There is the risk of being shunned socially. There is the risk of beginning an endless chain of retaliations and revenge killings between tribes. There is the shame of coming out publicly and talking about a subject so taboo, she and her husband are not only risking their reputations by telling this story, they are risking their lives.
No one would lie about something like this simply to undermine the Baghdad security operation. That can be done simply by calculating the dozens of dead this last week. Or by writing about the mass detentions of innocents, or how people are once again burying their valuables so that Iraqi and American troops don't steal them.
It was less than 14 hours between Sabrine's claims and Maliki's rewarding the people she accused. In 14 hours, Maliki not only established their innocence, but turned them into his own personal heroes. I wonder if Maliki would entrust the safety his own wife and daughter to these men.
This is meant to discourage other prisoners, especially women, from coming forward and making claims against Iraqi and American forces. Maliki is the stupidest man alive (well, after Bush of course…) if he believes his arrogance and callous handling of the situation will work to dismiss it from the minds of Iraqis.
By doing what he is doing, he's making it more clear than ever that under his rule, under his government, vigilante justice is the only way to go. Why leave it to the security forces and police? Simply hire a militia or gang to get revenge. If he doesn't get some justice for her, her tribe will be forced to… And the Janabat (the Al Janabis) are a force to be reckoned with.
Maliki could at least pretend the rape of a young Iraqi woman is still an outrage in todays Iraq…
Over the last few days, we have seen the very vengeance cycle Riverbend describes play out with the kidnapping and summary execution of 18 Iraqi policemen – and with calls from Al Maliki for revenge for those policemen.
And Iraqi voices, remembering the rape and murder of the young girl Abeer by american troops, make the connection between the crimes of american soldiers and the license given to the Maliki government by the occupation.
Do you think it is an accident that we call your army “the rapist army?” Do you think that rape of Abeer was the only such committed by your troops? Do you think that the rapes being committed by the puppet army of your puppet government are the only such?
Finally, we have the threatened execution of three young Iraqi women – here reported by Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily:
Three young women accused of joining the Iraqi insurgency movement and engaging in "terrorism" have been sentenced to death, provoking protest from rights organisations fearing that this could be the start of more executions of women in post-Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The execution of the three — Wassan Talib, Zaineb Fadhil and Liqa Omar Muhammad — are scheduled to begin Mar. 3.
One of the three alleged "terrorists", Muhammad, 25, gave birth to a daughter after her arrest and is still nursing the child in prison. A second, Talib, 31, is also in prison with her three-year-old child, according to Amnesty International.
Independent lawyers have expressed strong criticism of the trials, saying they were "unfair" and violated international conventions. The accused were denied the right of legal defence, Walid Hayali, a lawyer, said. He was barred from representing the three in court, he added. "No lawyer was given the opportunity to do his job," a close friend of Talib confirmed to IPS. But the right to independent legal representation was guaranteed under international law, lawyers here said. The passing of a death sentence on the mother of a newly born child was also in violation of a specific UN safeguard, they added.
There are over 2,000 women classified as "security detainees", according to Mohamed Khorshid. It is not known for certain how many have been executed since August 2004, but it is believed the figure is between 50 and 100.
In an update from The Brussels Tribunal on Saturday, word came that that the executions have been stayed pending appeals but there is still no assurance that they will have access to any legal representation or to a fair hearing. As the Tribunal writes :
Today we received information via the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that the three Iraqi women will not be executed until an appeals court has ruled on their cases. This assurance came from Iraqi authorities. It is not enough. We demand to know the charges on which these three Iraqi women stand convicted. We demand to know the date of their appeal hearings. We demand that a public statement is made. We demand that they be afforded all due protections under international human rights and humanitarian law.
When will the day come when all women, all men, all chidren of Iraq are afforded those protections? And what are we doing to make that day come sooner?