Iraq: Plight of Iraqi women under the occupation

"Respect for women... can triumph in the Middle East and beyond," said George Bush at the UN in September 2002. But numerous studies and surveys over the past three years proved that the situation of Iraqi women worsened under the US occupation.
Under the rule of the toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and prior the 1991 U.S. war and 13 years of UN sanctions, women enjoyed unquestionable quality rights to education and health.
Untold numbers of Iraqi women are victims of torture and sexual violence perpetuated by U.S. occupation forces, (whom the U.S. President calls liberators). And a great number of them now prefer staying in their homes fearing abduction and criminal abuse.

The U.S. occupation denied Iraqi women human rights, including the right to health, education and employment.

A recent editorial on Middle East Online sheds light on the suffering of female detainees in Iraq.

The situation of Iraqi women inside U.S.-run jails in Iraq is not less appalling than what male detainees faced in Abu Ghraib prison.

The article details what "female security detainees" face inside those prisons and reasons for their detention by the occupation authorities.

The U.S. occupation authorities apply the term "security detainee" to all "security detainees arrested under the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 on the grounds that they are considered an imperative threat to the stability and security of Iraq".

"Security detainee" is anyone who has been subject to random arrest, regardless of sex, age or circumstances.

According to many rights organisations, female detainees held "for security reasons," in U.S.-run jails in Iraq are subject to inhuman treatment, degradation and physical and psychological torture.

They’re also kept under unhealthy and unhygienic conditions of detention.

Organisations that took part in documenting the detention of female Iraqi detainees include independent women's and human rights groups operating inside Iraq and abroad (such as Women's Will, Occupation Watch, the Iraqi League and the Human Rights' Voice of Freedom), official and political party publications (notably those produced by the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Iraqi National Media and Culture Organisation), and international agencies and human rights and anti-war organisations (Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, and the Brussells Tribunal).

A shroud of secrecy and misinformation covers the estimated 30,000 to 100,000 detainees who’ve been held in Iraq since the war started in March 2003, including female detainees, with occupation authorities persistently refusing to give specific details about the number and status of detainees.

The same applies to the extent and whereabouts of female detainees held in U.S. jails in Iraq.

The Bush administration tried hard to hide the abuse and torture of detainees inside Abu Ghraib, but media reports removed the veil over the abuse scandal in April 2004.

The U.S. again is trying to hide the existence of female detainees it holds in its prisons in Iraq, in an attempt to escape public and international blame, and give Iraqis the sense that the occupation forces, supposed to be on a mission to end their suppression, hold great respect for their local traditions.

Iraqi collaborators to some extent contributed to promoting this lie.

Denying allegations that Iraqi female detainees are subject to torture and abuse, the Ministry of Interior Chief, Ahmed Youssef, issued a statement on 18 April 2004, claiming:

"We are Muslims. We know very well how to treat our female detainees."

But on 20 April 2004, Abdul-Bassat Turki, who has recently resigned his post as the Iraqi minister of human rights in protest against rights violations committed by the occupation forces and Paul Bremer's persistence to ignore his reports and to refuse him permission to visit Abu Ghraib, told UK’s The Guardian that a month before a secret U.S. military investigation was launched to probe allegations of abuse inside Abu Ghraib jail, he phoned Bremer, the administrator of the "Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority", and told him that female detainees are subject to maltreatment and abuse by the occupation forces.

"They had been denied medical treatment. They had no proper toilet. They had only been given one blanket, even though it was winter," the former minister said.

Several female detainees, who were subject to various forms of torture and abuse, were interviewed by Amnesty International, and most of them complained of having been “beaten, threatened with rape, verbally abused and held in solitary confinement for long periods of time,” according to Middle East Online article.

Also Anne Clwyd, a British human rights envoy to Iraq, decided to uncover the inhuman treatment Iraqi women face during detention when she learned of “the arrest and subsequent torture of a 70-year-old woman, whose torturers forced her into a makeshift bridle and then mounted her like a donkey,” the article further stated.

Amongst the most degrading treatment Iraqi female detainees faced, according to a report by the Iraqi Women's Will organisation, is “being brought in nude for questioning and hence subject to derisive and humiliating remarks by interrogators, wardens and translators.”

Hoda Al-Ezawi, one of those detainees, described how U.S. soldiers kept her in solitary confinement for 156 days.

Al-Ezawi's sister was also detained, and locked up inside a cell along with the corpse of their dead brother.

Al-Ezawi along with her two daughters, Nora, 15, and Sara, 20, were detained by the U.S. occupying forces and the Iraqi National Guard in February 2005 on the charge of supporting anti-occupation resistance.

Other forms of torture include forcing detainees stand up for long hours while being subject to continual threat and intimidation.

Ali Al-Qeisi, the man who appeared in photos depicting the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail with a bag over his head, recalls hearing the screams of female detainees.

"Their food was brought into their cells by naked men," he relates, adding, "we felt helpless as we listened to their screams, unable to do anything but pray to God Almighty."

Also officials at Kazemiya women's prison reported in October 2005 instances of rape.

UN Assistance Mission to Iraq confirmed that Iraqi police tortured a female detainee held at Diwaniya police station since March 2005. The woman recounted that electric shocks were applied to her heels. She was also threatened that her teenage daughter would be raped if she refused to provide interrogators with information.

Iraqi women are in most of the cases detained to be used as bargaining chips to force their male relatives to surrender to authorities.

And sometimes they are arrested for simply "supporting the resistance".

These are the stories of some of the Iraqi women who were detained by the occupation forces:

"Zakiya Sabaawi has been arrested because her husband, who is wanted by the occupation army, has fled ... "

"Iman Ahmed, of Amiriya, was taken into custody in order to force her brother, who is being pursued by occupation forces, to surrender himself."

"Sara Taha Al-Jumaili of Fallujah was arrested twice. The first time occurred on 19 October 2005, when U.S. forces alleged that she was the daughter of Zarqawi. It is common knowledge that Sara is the daughter of Taha Al-Jumaili, the well- known politician, who was under detention with the occupation forces when Sara was arrested. She was released in response to a popular demonstration and the declaration of a general strike. She was arrested again on 8 November on the charge of being a terrorist. Again, she was not released until the people declared a general strike and disseminated leaflets threatening the occupation forces with retaliatory acts."

"Occupation forces arrested Ilham Hussein, whose husband, Yasser Ibrahim Hassan, had just been killed in front of her and her family on 6 May 2006 during a raid on their home in the university district in central Baghdad. The couple had just celebrated the birth of their first son five days ago."

The Guardian once published a report accusing the U.S. forces of violating international law by taking Iraqi women hostages to force their male relatives to surrender to occupation authorities.

U.S. forces once raided a house in Baghdad, kidnapped a woman and her daughter, and then left a note on the gate saying:

"Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention".

Contrary to the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate that no one can "be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed," those women in most cases are detained because of their male relatives’ involvement in anti-occupation resistance.