|Colonial Violence Against Women in Iraq
“[G] reat day for the people in Iraq, torture chambers and rape rooms are shut down”. Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, 08 March 2004.
By Ghali Hassan
06/02/04 "ICH" -- In one of the most secular country in the Arab world, where women were until recently a visible and integrated part of public life, females have all but disappeared. The lawlessness, brought by the occupation forces into Iraq, is felt disproportionately by young women and girls who have yet to finish their education. This is the “freedom” George W. Bush and his cabal brought to the Iraqi people.
Immediately after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the U.S. army failed to establish effective authority and security of their own. And because of the power vacuum that developed when the Iraqi regime collapsed, there was a complete breakdown of law and order encouraged by the invading forces. According to Amnesty International, “violence against women and girls has sharply increased in Iraq compared to the time before last year's war”. Under the U.S.-British occupation, Iraqi women faced arrest; torture, including rape; and even execution simply because their husbands or male relatives were sought by the occupation forces” (1). Women detainees and Iraqi Prisoners of War (POWs) arrested without charge by the occupying forces are denied humane treatment and rights under the Geneva Conventions and International laws. So far, only Saddam Hussein has been granted “prisoner of war” status by the United States.
Under international humanitarian law, the occupying forces have a responsibility to guarantee the “safety of the civilian population in Iraq”. They have an obligation to maintain and restore public order and to provide food, medical care and relief assistance. So far, they have failed in their duties. The occupying forces must provide effective protection, investigate and punish all perpetrators of violence against women.
The U.S. occupation force in Iraq is taking women and their close relatives hostages, and using them as “bargaining chips”. Recently, Newsday reported that, “the U.S. military is holding dozens of Iraqi women as bargaining chips to put pressure on their wanted relatives to surrender. These detainees are not accused of any crimes, and experts say their detention violates the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. The practice also risks associating the United States with the tactics of countries it has long criticized for arbitrary arrests”(2). The Australian SBS World News reported on 29 May 2004 of horrific cases of Iraqi women detainees tortured and raped by U.S. soldiers and their quislings.
Cases of torture and rape of Iraqi women detainees first come out of prison through smuggled note by a female detainee to the resistance fighters in which the other women detainees asked the fighters to bomb the prison and spare their dignity. Amal K. Swadi, one of several female lawyers representing Iraqi women detainees in Abu Ghraib prison, detailed the systematic abuse and torture (including rapes) perpetrated by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi women held in detention “across Iraq” without charge. According to Swadi, the women have been detained – not because of anything they have done, but merely because of whom they married to. Often U.S. soldiers raid a house in their violent manners, and if they fail to find a male suspect, they will take away his wife or daughter instead.
The wife and daughter of the former Vice Chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Council, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, were arrested in November last year. The occupation authority has acknowledged that they are detained, but they haven't said anything about their legal status or the reason for their detention. Although, Amnesty International and several human rights organisations have called on the occupation authority to “guarantee adequate protection of women and women rights defenders”, they received no response.
US officials have acknowledged detaining women in the hope of convincing male relatives to provide information: a strategy that is in violation of all international laws. “The issue is the system”, Nada Doumani of the International Committee of the Red Cross told Luke Harding of the Guardian of London. Iman Khamas, head of the International Occupation Watch Centre, a non-governmental organisation which gathers information on human rights abuses under coalition rule, said, “one former detainee had recounted the alleged rape of her cellmate in Abu Ghraib. According to Khamas, the prisoner said; “her cellmate had been rendered unconscious for 48 hours”. She claimed; “she had been raped 17 times in one day by Iraqi police in the presence of American soldiers”. Kamas reported that, “since December 2003 there are around 625 women prisoners in Al-Rusafah prison in Umm Qasr and 750 in Al-Kazimah alone. They range from girls of twelve to women in their sixties”. The allegations made by the victims in the report are sickening, and can only be attributed to those who live in a sick society, like America. Furthermore, British Labour MP Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair’s personal human rights envoy to Iraq, highlighted the humiliation last year of an Iraqi woman in her 70s detained by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib for about six weeks without charge. The elderly women had been abused, insulted and ridden like a donkey by U.S. soldiers.
These heinous crimes against Iraqi women and Iraqis POWs are not the acts of a “ few bad apples”, as suggested by George W. Bush and his lackey Tony Blair. All the evidence now points to the facts that Donald Rumsfeld authorised physical coercion and sexual humiliation in Iraqi prisons. Julian Borger of the Guardian of London reported from Washington “General Ricardo Sanchez, head of coalition forces in Iraq, issued an order last October giving military intelligence control over almost every aspect of prison conditions at Abu Ghraib with the explicit aim of manipulating the detainees ‘emotions and weaknesses’. Borger writes, “[t]he October 12 memorandum, reported in the Washington Post, is a potential ‘smoking gun’ linking prisoners abuse to the U.S. high command. It represents hard evidence that the maltreatment was not simply the fault of rogue military police guards”(3). So far, these heinous crimes against Iraqi civilians (women and men) proved to be ineffective; no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and the resistance continue to grow.
The revelation of tortures and rapes of Iraqi POWs and Iraqi female detainees “constitute the writing on the wall for a decadent civilization which has been proclaiming its moral and cultural superiority to the world for some centuries now and using that public delusion to control their own populations and bludgeon all the world’s peoples into submission, with vacuous promises of civilization or freedom”, writes Aseem Shrivastava (4). Western culture has never stood lower in Moslem and Arab eyes.
Mainstream Western media are in total cooperation with power. CBS, who held its story for two weeks at the request of General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showed the kind of self-censorship in the media. CBS only aired the story to beat Seymour Hersh’s report in The New Yorker. According to Danny Schecter of Media Channel, “CBS was so nervous about bucking the Pentagon that it needed to interview war supporters and spooks in its story to validate its decision to air the story”(5). The Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari says, “the photographs are certainly shocking, but our reports/ratios are worse . . .. We don't need the photos to know what's going on and that it's not acceptable”. According to the Taguba’s report, the report, which was prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba on alleged abuse of prisoners by members of the 800th Military Police Brigade at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad, Iraqi women, have been abused, raped and forced to strip naked by sick U.S. soldiers at gunpoint. The Bush Administration refuses to release photographs and videotapes to prevent further domestic embarrassment in the land of the “free press”.
Western Women’s movements stood silent when tortures and rapes of Iraqi women detainees came to light. Western “feminists” are ready to attack with ferocity Moslem “fundamentalists” and community leaders, but they failed to lift a finger when innocent Iraqi women and girls are detained, tortured and raped by sick colonial soldiers. Furthermore, western feminists allowed Bush and Blair to hijack feminist rhetoric in order to bomb and kill thousands of innocent Afghani and Iraqi civilians. This is not new in imperialists thinking; western feminism has served as a “handmaid to colonialism”. “Whether in the hands of patriarchal men or feminists”, writes Harvard Professor, Leila Ahmed, “the ideas of western feminism essentially functioned to morally justify the attack on native societies and to support the notion of comprehensive superiority of [the U.S.A. and] Europe (6). Bush and Blair speak the language of benevolent bullies, and their lies led to the destruction of Iraq and the murder of more than 12,000 innocent civilians.
The words “rape” and “torture” seem to be difficult words for Americans and Westerns to utter when they are caught in the act of committing them on people of other societies. The American scholar, Joseph Massad writes: “It should not be forgotten that in America, not in the Moslem World, between 40 percent and 60 percent of women killed, are killed by their husbands and boyfriends, but such murders of course are no longer even called ‘passion’ crimes; much less ‘honour’ crimes. It is the misogynistic trait of imperial American culture and its violent racism that propels the torture to which Iraqi prisoners (POWs and civilians) have been, and may still subjected”(7). Here is what the average Iraqis thinks of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”: “They are an army of sick cowards. They are from a country of sick cowards”.
Rightwing Americans lost their mind to think properly. It is preposterous to read the like of Michael Ignatieff advocating violence against innocent people, and at the same time encouraging the rise of terrorism. The New York Times columnist writes: “the US and its allies should use coercion and assassination to defeat terrorism. But they must still keep faith with democratic principles”. How can one keeps with these “democratic principles” if one does not believe in democratic principles for those one despised? Mr. Ignatieff proved to the world that he doesn’t think properly, and that his opinion is pure imperialist rubbish. Terrorism grows out of the violence of “state terrorism”, currently practised openly by the U.S. and its close ally Israel. The definition of terrorism seems to fit the patterns of American and Western imperialism. The U.S. and its allies should be condemened for blatant violations of International laws and the Fourth Geneva Conventions.
Secretary Powell's promises on Women’s Day stood in stark contrast to the realities on the ground in Iraq. Mr. Powell is more concerned about “America’s International image” than the welfare of the Iraqi people. Mr. Powell allowed himself to become the mouthpiece for the necons gang and Israel's Zionists. Mr. Powell’s job for the past decades has been selling wars against innocent and defenceless people. History shows that Mr. Powell sacrificed moral principles and human rights for his own increasingly pathetic career.
There is no military solution to the situation in Iraq, and therefore the best way to end the violence against the Iraqi people, is to end the military and economic occupation of Iraq. It will also be a historical day in the struggle for liberation from colonial occupation. That day will certainly come to Iraq.
 Amnesty International, Violence against women increases sharply, 31 March 2004.
 Mohammed Bazzi, U.S. using some Iraqis as bargaining chips, Newsweek, 26 May 2004.
 Julian Borger, Commander of coalition forces witnessed prisoner abuse, The Guardian, 24 May 2004.
 Aseem Shrivastava, Iraq torture, Znet, 03 May 204.
 Danny Schecter, Why Media Stood Silent When Torture Cases First Came To Light, MediaChannel.org, May 12, 2004.
 Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, Yale University Press, 1993.
 Joseph Massad, Imperial mementos, Al-Ahram Weekly, No. 691, 2004.
Ghali Hassan is in the Science and Mathematics Education Centre, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. Hassan@exchange.curtin.edu.au.