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Abortion and Rape in Baghdad

Shielding Women From a Renewal of Domestic Violence


BAGHDAD, Iraq - A sampling of the smashed lives in this city's first shelter for battered women shows just how much work its founder, Yanar Mohamed, has before her.

There is Susan, whose new husband began to beat her after discovering that she had been raped as a teenager. He held their new baby to her breast for feedings, because she was not allowed to touch the infant. She now lives in the shelter with the child.

Rana, a 16-year-old who had been abused for years by her father, escaped from her home soon after he beat her sister so badly that she died.

Over the summer, Ms. Mohamed, an Iraqi-Canadian architect-turned-advocate, has opened a shelter in Baghdad and another in Kirkuk, in the north. Between them, the shelters house 10 women. The shelters are the first in Iraq (not including the Kurdish-controlled part of northern Iraq, which has been free from Saddam Hussein since 1991), and they have provided a safe place for victims of abuse.

The women come without papers or passports. They even leave their names behind them, for safety. They are blamed for the very abuse they suffer, accused of bringing dishonor on their families. In a punishing and rigid Islamic tradition, some would be killed if their relatives found them.

Since the American invasion and the virtual collapse of the Iraqi state, Islamic militancy has grown. Hard-line Islamists dominate several cities just north and west of Baghdad. Liquor stores have been bombed, and more women are covering their heads in public.

At the same time, women's groups have mushroomed. Hanaa Edwar, secretary of Iraqi al-Amal, which provides health care to poor women, estimates that there are a few hundred women's groups across Iraq now, compared to just a few dozen before the war.

Ms. Mohamed's group, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, is among them. In addition to the shelters, she runs a newspaper, organizes lobbying campaigns out of a tiny office in central Baghdad, and employs a lawyer who offers legal services to women.

Her decision to become an advocate for abused women grew from her own past. Her family forced her grandmother, as a teenager, to marry a cleric who was 40 years her senior. She ran away but was returned a few years later and eventually bore him five children.

"Imagine being married by force and having five children with a man you despise," said Ms. Mohamed, 43, who on a recent day was wearing jeans, platform sandals and a red T-shirt. "It cannot happen again. But if you look at the streets now, the politics, it is happening."

In many ways, Iraqi women were freer a half-century ago than they are today. Women's groups had pushed through changes to the civil code making multiple marriages more difficult for men and improving rules that governed inheritance for women. Some women were educated abroad, and women were appointed as judges and to government posts.

But women began losing those gains in the 1980's, when years of war sapped economic resources, plunging the country into poverty and eroding women's independence. To appease religious leaders in Iraq and his Arab neighbors, Mr. Hussein forced a stricter adherence to conservative religious rules.

The Baghdad shelter is a two-story house rented by Ms. Mohamed and run by a woman in her 30's. Its location is secret. An armed guard is always on duty. A handful of women live in two bedrooms and a living room.

Rana, the 16-year-old, is from a conservative southern city. She was taken out of school after the fourth grade. She was not allowed to leave the house, or watch television. After her sister died and she fled, a woman from the American military saved her, she said, allowing her to stay on a military base temporarily.

Her family tracked her down, through a local Iraqi translator at the base, and showed up one day to take her back. The family signed an agreement saying they would not beat her, but she said it had no effect. Relatives placed hot coals on her head to cure her of her running away, which they perceived as a mental illness, Rana said.

She escaped again, back to the base, and has been in the shelter since it opened. She spoke sitting on a sunny patch of couch in Ms. Mohamed's office, wearing a tight lime-green T-shirt, tennis shoes and a leather wristband. Most of all, she said, she wants to return to school, for the first time in many years.

Shelters for abused women are completely new to most Iraqis. Violence against women is not discussed publicly. It is implicitly condoned even by Iraq's legal system, which gives much reduced sentences in cases of so-called honor killings, in which male relatives kill a woman they think has violated the honor of the family. Rega Rauf, an Iraqi now living in Sweden, wrote a book on honor killings in northern Iraq that detailed 400 cases in Sulaimaniya in 1998."When you speak about the phenomenon of violence against women, it is very new," Ms. Edwar said. "It's a very old problem, but people are not used to hearing it talked about."

Ms. Mohamed is talking loudly. She separated from her husband and returned to Iraq last year after living abroad since 1993. She sold her house in Canada, left her 17-year-old son there with his father and used the proceeds from the sale to start her organization.

She is a last-resort advocate for women in many situations. She helped a group of 47 who worked in a bank and who were jailed in the spring after their supervisor accused them of stealing. After days of waiting to plead her case, she lost her patience and began shouting at the Iraqi clerks and American military officials in the room with her.

"I had bad manners," she said, smiling. "But they listened to us."

Three weeks later, all 47 women were released, and a superior was arrested.

Ms. Mohamed has received threats by e-mail and by phone. Both her phone number and her e-mail address are published in her newspaper so women can reach her about abuse. One person threatened to kill her, and another said he would blow her up.

"He was very specific," she said. She seemed unruffled, but said she had worn a bulletproof vest to the hearing for the bank workers, just to be safe.

The women most in danger of being killed are those whose families accuse them of besmirching the family honor. They are being sought by their entire tribe. There are three such women in the Baghdad shelter.

The killing and abuse stretches across class and educational lines.

Ms. Mohamed's newspaper, Equality, recently published a story about a woman who died after being tied to a tree, shot and beaten in an area called New Baghdad after she went alone with the man she wanted to marry to a southern city to fetch a tribal leader. She had hoped he could persuade her father, a lawyer, to accept her choice of husband. "I don't want to take us back to the time of my grandmother," Ms. Mohamed said. "It depends on us whether we resist or not."

The Iraqi Women's Rights Coalition

The following rights of women to be enshrined in law:

  • Equal rights between women and men in all spheres of social, family life, inheritance, marriage, and divorce.
  • The total abolition of killings based on ‘honour’. Honour killings must be recognised as a crime, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice and sentenced to a prison term according to the law.
  • The criminalisation of all forms of rape, sexual harassment, physical and psychological torture, domestic violence and beheading women under any excuses.
  • The right to have abortion for up to12 weeks of pregnancy for women, and there should be no restriction by the state or her family.
  • The abolition of marriages for girls under the age of sixteen, and the abolition of polygamous marriages and the practice of temporary marriage (SIGHA), and also the right to total freedom of choice regarding sexual partners and spouses.
  • The right to enjoy equal rights in employment and education.
  • The right to have individual freedom to live alone, and to travel freely without being accompanied.
  • The right to refuse Islamic veiling by the family or the state or any other person, without any penalty.
  • The right to join political parties and the right to establish women’s rights organisations, advocacy centres, and refugees. Recognition of women’s rights in participating in every governmental post without any discrimination or obstacles by the state.

  • The Ultimate Hypocrisy
    Islamist’s Campaign for Veiling and “freedom”

    By Mahmood Ketabchi - January 14th 2004.

    The French government’s decision to ban religious insignia from the public schools has the Islamists scurrying to mount an international campaign to oppose secular and progressive rules. The Islamists are running this campaign under the rubric of “personal freedom, secularism, and protection of people’s privacy.” But, they are lying for they never stood for these principles when Islamic atrocities occur on a daily basis in Islamic stricken countries both where the Islamists are in power or in opposition. This campaign is founded on sheer lies and demagogy.

    When was the last time that these hypocrites supported even the basic and rudimentary rights of women and children in Islamic imposed countries? When did they ever condemn misogyny, woman hating, and gender apartheid which their co-religious brothers in “Islamic countries” imposed on the society with guns, knives, machetes, whips, imprisonment, and stoning? Can they tell us when did they come to the street to oppose their beloved Talibanite brothers when they turned Afghanistan into a mediaeval, inhumane, and barbarian society? Where did they demonstrate when thousands of women in Iran under Islamic rules perished under the barbaric punishment of stoning just because they had an extramarital affair?

    If dressing is a private and personal matter as the Islamists assert, why is it that it only applies to “Moslem women” who want to wear hejab? What about women who do not want to? Can they wear what they like? If yes, why didn’t they ever raise their voice against forced veiling in Islamic stricken countries, such as, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait….? Can they prove to us that they have exposed and protested against Islamic gangs who beat women or pour acid in their face just because they do not observe “proper” Islamic dressing codes, just because they put on a lot of make up, speak loudly, laugh and smile in public or even shake hands with men?

    Let them show to the world when and where they opposed child raping and molestation. Where is their outrage about Islamic marriage laws in countries such as Iran which sanctions the marriage and the rape of children and young girls? Let them give us proof that they oppose the beating, harassing, and murdering of gay men, lesbians and transgendered people and that they are willing to protect their personal right to privacy. These are just a few questions out of hundreds that I have for the Islamists.

    The organizers of the campaign against the banning of hejab in public schools in France are the same people who have erected the machinery of gender apartheid, barbarism, and savagery in Islamic imposed societies. Every conscientious person, freedom-loving individual, and progressive organization, who hears the Islamists talk about “secularism, freedom, and the right to privacy, should confront them with the above questions. We must demand an answer. Let them show us where they truly stand.

    The kinds of lies they are telling us are familiar ones. We should not forget the religious Right and the Operation Rescue gangs who attacked and bombed abortion clinics and assassinated physicians who performed abortions under the guise of protecting the life of the child. Don’t anti abortionists claim they are staunchly pro-life? Don’t we know how Christian religious gangs want to push prayers into the public school by claiming that they want to practice their religious rights? Don’t we know how Jerry Farwell, Pat Robertson and other religious goons around Bush incessantly push religion into our lives under the rubric of religious freedom and personal rights? We cannot stand by and let Islamic demagogues expand Islamic barbarism to our lives here or anywhere in the world.

    Banning hejab and other religious insignia in public schools has nothing to do with banning hejab in the society or limiting freedom of religion. Religious manifestations in schools, whether imposed by the government or religious industry, must be prohibited in order to create a free, creative, healthy, and lively learning environment. Moreover, it is an important step toward protecting children from religious proselytizing and coercion, ideological conditioning and manipulation by religious industries and institutions.

    Religious clothing for children is a clear violation of their rights. Religious recruitment, teaching, and clothing for children must be banned altogether, not only in public, but also in private school and the society as a whole. Children are not the property of their parents. They are human beings who have certain rights that must not be violated, including the right to live free of religious manipulation imposed on them by the parents and the religious sect their parents are associated with. A humane and progressive society must provide children under legal age with such protection against religious and ideological indoctrination.

    Religion and god must be separated from the state completely and unequivocally, and public officials should be prohibited from symbolizing any religion at work and in government buildings and offices. Freedom of clothing for private adult individuals must be protected as long as it does not hamper or impede their mobility and safety as well as the well-being of others in workplace and other public spaces. Religion must become strictly and totally a private affair of the individual.

    The Islamist campaign against the French Government’s decision to ban veiling and other religious insignia from public schools is an open and flagrant attack on freedom, women’s rights, children’s well-being, and secularism. It has nothing to do with defending freedom. The Islamists, with the help of the Islamic and reactionary governments in the Middle East are seeking to expand and spread their inhumane influence and medieval political power in the west. They want a share of political power in Europe. The Islamists’ audacity to mount an offensive campaign has only become possible because of western bourgeoisie governments’ policy of appeasement, reactionary theories of cultural relativism and post-modernism that justifies Islamic brutalities and atrocities under the guise of respecting “diversity” and the “cultural heritage” of “Third World” people including “Islamic Nations.”

    The Islamists are mounting an attack against civilized humanity. Today, they want hejab in schools; tomorrow they will demand Islamic courts as they are already campaigning for in Canada. Later, they will insist on marrying four wives, turn women into subhuman beings barred from certain jobs, entitled to half of the inheritance their brothers receive, and considered unfit to testify in the court. Maybe in the distant future they will want us to give them the right to stone their wives and daughters. All these under the guise of the right to “religious freedom.”

    Progressive humanity must stand up to Islamists who epitomize barbarism, misogynism, gender apartheid, the raping and molesting of children, and the complete rightlessness of people. These reactionary dangerous gangs must be stopped now. Tomorrow or the day after might be too late. We should not allow them to manipulate and falsify the ideas of freedom, personal privacy, and human rights. Such a travesty must never occur.

    Iraq Opens Abortion Clinic in Baghdad
    Funded by the U.S. Military


    THE WASHINGTON POST - Saturday December 11th, 2004

    A newly opened abortion clinic in Baghdad is offering abortions for free. Paid for by the U.S. military and the American taxpayer. The clinic is meant to help rape victims. Military spokesman Samuel Meyer declined to comment on the nature of the rape victims and why the military is paying for the abortions.

    The Yanar Mohammed Clinic is named after the Iraqi feminist who pioneered feminist rights in Iraq. The two flags on the front of the renovated butcher shop are the American and Iraqi, suggesting a sort of unity between the two nations. The irony that it used to be a butcher shop is not lost on the local residents. The fact it is only two blocks from one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, now controlled by the U.S. military, is also not lost on the residents.

    In Washington however, Democrats and Republicans are joined at the hip in wanting to know why the United States is paying for Iraqi abortions. On Thursday Jeff Sessions, the Republican from Alabama, stood up and demanded to know why the military is paying the bill. His voice was quickly joined by New York Senator Hillary Clinton, marking one of the few occasions where Mrs Clinton and Mr Sessions have ever agreed.

    Their reasons are the same: Why did the military decide to renovate an old building (a butcher shop, no less) and turn it into an abortion clinic?

    From an abortionist viewpoint, the butcher shop is ideal. Its clean and sterile. And since meat is a food that is in shortage in Baghdad, butcher shops are easy to find and cheap to buy.

    From a military perspective however, its a cheap way to solve a problem that happens often in war. Rape, and the children of rape. Its an often unspoken fact that the military uses rape as a weapon to subdue people.

    After almost 2 years of U.S. occupation, the overcrowded hospitals in Baghdad are dealing with a new problem: Pregnant women. After questioning a handful of the women that are waiting in the clinic's waiting room, most of the women claimed they were raped by U.S. and British soldiers.

    It used to be a taboo to admit to being raped. But not after almost two years of occupation. Now the claims are seen as evidence that the United States is here to rape Iraqi women, steal Iraqi oil and kill off Iraqi men.

    And such a viewpoint is not helping the U.S. led occupation. Instead it incites young Iraqis to ambush the U.S. military, causing the number of casualties to escalate.

    Statistics released after the first Gulf War have shown that the number of soldiers who participate in rape and gang rape is quite high amongst the U.S. Marines and the Army. The U.S. Navy and Air Force have dramatically lower statistics. The statistics overall are quite shocking.

    If we assume that the rape statistics from the previous war hold true, there is a lot of Iraqi rape victims walking around after 2 years of occupation. And quite a few of them are pregnant. Perhaps its not so surprising that the U.S. is paying for the abortions.

    "We know the soldiers get bored. Rape is an effective way of increasing troop morale. What they do during their off-time is none of our business as long as it doesn't interfere with the war effort." -Unknown U.S. Marine Officer, 1991.

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