September 11th has been and gone. Flags were
waved, tears were shed and silence observed. Generals
offered their assessments and politicians blustered. Across
the political spectrum, we Americans continue to insist upon
our unwavering support for the troops, from the right-wing
call for continued funding of their work to the left-wing
call to bring them home.
In what can only be called the epitome of American
arrogance, concern for the plight of the Iraqi people,
particularly the 4 million of whom are now refugees is
absent from the rhetoric, the clear implication being that
that our suffering, which is the result of our own failed
policies, is far more important than the suffering we have
inflicted upon others. Missing from the national dialog is
any sense of pressing horror at the lack of electricity and
potable water in Iraq, or the trauma and malnutrition,
especially among children.
Of particular concern is the increasingly dire plight of
Iraqi women, whose lives President Bush promised to better.
“Violence against women and girls has been an invisible but
constant feature of ethnic cleansing, which the US continues
to ignore,” according to the human rights organization Madre
in their analysis of the Petraeus report, a point made all
too clear by the slaughter of women and children by U.S.
Marines at Haditha. As Madre points out, that women cannot
go out in public without their husbands or that girls are
forbidden to attend school in some areas is not a factor in
the rosy assessments of progress being made.
In addition, pregnant women face serious dangers because of
the constant bombing, curfews, lack of electricity and safe
water, hospitals that have been destroyed and lack of
medicine and medical personnel. According to reports from
Save the Children and UNICEF, rates of maternal mortality,
anemia and underweight children have sky-rocketed as have
the mortality rates for children under five.
There have been numerous reports of women in Iraq being
kidnapped or sold into sexual slavery by families desperate
to put food on the table. Widows are particularly
vulnerable. Al Jazeera reports that prior to the U.S.
invasion, Iraqi widows were provided with financial and
housing help and free education for their children. Today,
no such safety net exists.
The Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)
estimates that some 4000 women and girls have disappeared
since the U.S. invasion and have likely been trafficked to
other countries and forced into prostitution. Honor
killings have also risen dramatically since the U.S. invaded
Iraq. In Kurdish Iraq alone there have been 350 such deaths
so far this year and there were 95 reports of women
committing suicide by self-immolation during the first six
months of 2007.
As difficult as life is in Iraq, leaving the country poses
significant problems for women as well. Iraqi law requires
that women have permission from a male relative in order to
get a passport, which is only obtainable in Baghdad, a
journey that is too difficult and dangerous to be feasible
for many women who do not dare risk traveling without a male
For those women who are able to leave, economic realities
force many to turn to prostitution in order to feed their
families. The Independent (UK) reports that some 50,000
refugee women are now working as prostitutes. While that
number seems huge, given that there are an estimated 4
million refugees, the majority women and children who are
not being allowed to work in other occupations, the number
is sadly believable.
As horrific as the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in
Iraq is, in terms of American politics, it is the expected
and acceptable collateral damage of war, where the lives of
women and children in particular are routinely discounted.
Certainly it is not worthy of Congressional attention or
media coverage. The unfortunate truth is that it will take
much more than bringing the troops home to truly end the
war. Yet with persistent myopia, we continue to discuss Iraq
in terms of our national honor, refusing to acknowledge the
true scope of the carnage and humanitarian disaster that we
have inflicted upon the Iraqis, especially women and
children. To continue to do so is an act of great folly,
one that will ultimately become our greatest national