Disaffirming Resolution 1325
by Jessica Lee
“We who face death” is how Zakia Hakki, an Iraqi judge, describes the women of Iraq. While she was speaking at a panel during the 51st Commission on the Status of women, she herself was recovering from a knee injury, resulting from an assassination attempt.1
Since the 2003 U.S. invasion Iraqi women are suffering from a deteriorating infrastructure, social conservatism, and gender-based violence. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 affirms that armed conflict disproportionately affects civilian women and children, and that there exists the need to protect their rights. 2 The United States maintains that Resolution 1325 was implemented in the strategies for Iraq, yet the situation for Iraqi women has become dire. In his December 2005 speech, President Bush discussed “our efforts to help the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East”—efforts which would “protect the interests of all Iraqi people.”3 Unfortunately, the U.S. intervention in overthrowing the Ba’ath regime has not democratized Iraq, but instead has instigated a civil war. As Zachia Hakki says, “There’s no longer one Saddam, but hundreds of ‘Saddams.’”4
How has the U.S. government failed? Women in Iraq are victims of sectarian violence. They are subjected to Islamist militants’ strict mandates on dress and conduct. They are unemployed and displaced. They are dying at the hand of their families in honor killings. As Aida Ussayaran, of the Council of Representatives says, “This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women’s lives.” 5
Disaffirming Resolution 1325
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 acknowledges that women and children make up the overwhelming majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict. The Security Council therefore addresses the necessity for parties involved in armed conflict to protect the rights of women and children. Further more, Resolution 1325 calls for an increased representation of women in the decision-making level for peace-building. The violations against Iraqi women demonstrate that the United States as an occupying force has failed to implement 1325.
“The Security Council calls on measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary.”6
The Iraqi Governing Council assembled in the summer of 2003. “There is a pronounced sectarian hue to the opinions of the IGC,” wrote Raad Alkadiri and Chris Toensing in 2003, as religious leaders who were repressed under the Ba’ath government gained prominence.7 The first democratic elections in Iraq were held in January 2005. The new governmental system was formulated by U.S. allocated seats in parliament according to religious and ethnic groups. The result was the Shiite list winning almost half of the vote.8 The two prominent political parties in Iraq have become the Islamic Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Thus in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion a more Islamic state emerged.
Sharia, the Islamic code for living, has gained influence in Iraqi governance. Isobel Coleman, Director of the Women and U.S. Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses the implications of Sharia in Iraq’s new Constitution. Article 14 of Iraq's new constitution, states that Iraqis are equal before the law regardless of sex. But the constitution also states that no law can be passed that contradicts the “established rulings” of Islam. 9 Ambiguities arise, such as in personal law, which concerns inheritance, divorce, and marriage issues. How should the Koran’s law of inheritance be applied to women in modern day? And who decides on which interpretations of sharia to implement? Critics fear that Iraq’s new constitution will compromise women’s rights. Yanar Mohammed, head of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, worries that sharia has resulted in “a constitution that traded women’s rights for cooperation from Islamist political parties.” 10
Just months after the U.S. invasion, extremists touting “Islamic law” began threatening Iraqi women who did not conform to their rigid rules of dress or behavior. As right-wing Islamist propaganda began to circulate in Iraqi cities after spring 2003, women were forced under hijaab. Mithul Alusi, an Iraqi legislator states, “These attempts to intimidate women are attempts to terrorize society.” 11 Subjugation of women appears to be the initial step undertaken by religious extremists to push their political agenda for a theocratic government. Yanar Mohammad describes the forced veiling of women as a symbol of conquest, “When a political party gains control over an area, it puts its flag everywhere…The veil on women is like a flag now.”12 MADRE’s 2007 report describes the emergence of “misery gangs” and “punishment committees”: Islamist groups, associated with the Badr Brigade of the U.S. funded SCIRI Party, who are enforcing “Islamic law.”13 The U.S. government envisions a democratic government in Iraq, but it is funding a theocracy and fueling a civil war.
According to Iraq Body Count, Iraq’s civilian death toll totals above 60,000 and is continually climbing.14 A 2006 study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates 654,965 casualties in Iraq between March 2003 and July 2006.15 24,865 Iraqi civilian deaths were reported during the first two years of occupation. Almost 20% of these casualties were women and children. Among the victims under the age of 18, 22.7% were female.16 A UN study, based on figures provided by the Baghdad Medico-Legal Institute and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, estimates 34,452 Iraqi civilian deaths for 2006.17 Female casualties have been under-reported.
“The Security Council calls upon all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse…”18
Jihad Mazarweh, a psychoanalyst, states in an interview in Die Zeit, “It would be a mistake to interpret lack of public discussion of many sexual issues in the Middle East as indicative of a lack of problems. Rather, the silence only reflects the strength of taboo.”19 More than 400 women were abducted and assaulted during the first four months of the U.S. occupation. Prior to the U.S. invasion, abduction of women was rare, but since then it has increased and even trafficking of women from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities into nearby Gulf countries has been reported.20 Much of this violence against women was initially attributed to social disintegration and a crumbling infrastructure following the fall of the Ba’ath regime.21 The Bush Administration attributes the majority of the violence against women to Sunni and other anti-U.S. groups. But it soon became apparent that Islamist groups affiliated with U.S. backed political parties had almost equal participation in the violence against women.22
The Los Angeles Times identifies the BadrBrigade and the Mahdi Army as the “most deadly Shiite militias” in sectarian violence.23 Evidence gathered by the Iraqi Women’s Network and the Organization for Iraqi Women’s Freedom suggest that rape is being used as a weapon in sectarian war to dishonor families. Besmia Khatib of the Iraqi Women’s Network calls it “collateral rape.”24 Rape victims often remain silent because of the stigma it carries. Victims of rape and sexual violence are often posed as the wrongdoer, therefore most rapes go unreported. But just this year, victims have publicly come forward about their attacks. A 20-year-old Sunni woman on February 19 accused three Iraqi policemen of raping her after she was detained during a search of her house in Baghdad. Ahmed Mukhtar, a school headmaster in Mosul states, “The Iraqi police are following the example of those who trained them.”25 On February 22 another Sunni woman accused four Iraqi soldiers of raping her and attempting to rape her two daughters.26
Women in Detention
Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi women’s rights activist, states, “In our culture, if a woman has been to prison, it’s as though she has been violated.”27 Unfortunately, the humiliation goes further for Iraqi women in detention. The exact number of detention facilities is unknown. In 2004 Hajj Ali, director of the Organization for the Defense of Detainees in Occupation Jails, said, “Under Saddam there were 13 prisons. Now there are 36 run by the government and 200 run by the militias. All these have the approval of the American government.”28 Since then, the report of the U.S. State Department’s Democracy and Human Rights Bureau in 2006, states that there are 450 detention centers in Iraq.
According to Newsweek, common criminals are being interrogated like terrorists. Women are being detained on the basis of their religion, but mainly as “bargaining chips” to coerce male relatives to surrender. 29 Reports of violence against Iraqi women perpetrated by U.S. coalition forces and U.S. contractors have recently become public. In 2004, a letter signed “Noor”, a female detainee at Abu Ghraib, recounted the situation. Noor states that U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib were systematically raping female detainees, and that several of them were now pregnant.30 Huda Hafez Amad, a female detainee at Abu Ghraib states that U.S. guards struck her in the face and forced her stand for twelve hours after interrogation. Another detainee recounts seeing a woman with electric burns on her body, after she reportedly gave the interrogators wrong information.31 Major General Antonio Taguba’s 2004 report on the inquiry into Abu Ghraib confirms that a military policeman had raped at least one woman detained at Abu Ghraib. 32 Taguba further reported that Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. ordered a young woman to pull her shirt up to her neck and that guards had photographed and videotaped naked female prisoners.33 The violence against detainees at Abu Ghraib gained widespread attention, but according to Amal Kadhim Swadi, an Iraqi lawyer, U.S. coalition forces may be perpetrating sexual violence against Iraqi women across the country.34 Women detainees once released are often stigmatized. Society and even their families ostracize them for bringing dishonor.
“Honor killings” are murders perpetrated by male relatives against women to restore family honor, which has been lost by a women’s impropriety. In the north 239 suspected “honor killings” were reported in the first eight months of 2006. 35 Dr. Huda al-Nuaimi, a professor at Baghdad University volunteering with Amnesty International, describes a case of a female detainee who was a victim of rape and possibly pregnant as a result. When she was released the girl’s family wanted to kill her, but the mosque and neighbors intervened. When Dr. Nuaimi later went for a follow up visit, the girl and her family had moved. “I wonder whether this girl is still alive…given this local custom, it would be very difficult for her to stay alive.” 36 As Yifat Susskind discusses, “honor killing” inverts the relationship between victim and perpetrator in the ethical and legal framework of international human rights law. The perpetrator is seen as the victim of dishonor, while the woman and anyone who comes to her defense are seen as the guilty party.37 In a suspected honor killing case, a student was publicly hanged in Baghdad by armed militia and her brother was fatally shot when he tried to rescue her.38 According to Yifat Susskind, the increase of honor killings under the U.S. occupation indicates that—like other human right violations—broader social forces are moving between the private and public spheres.39
Right-wing Islamists say that “honor killing” is a religious obligation, yet it is not condoned in any Islamic texts. Instead, they are rooted in customary laws of family honor that pre-dates Islam and Christianity. The notion of family honor is upheld by Islamists, such as the Badr militia, because it embodies their social vision. “Honor killings” maintain preferable gender roles; women are kept silent and in the private sphere, while men are vocal and active in the public sphere.
Female Genital Mutilation
Iraqi Kurdistan has a distinct history from central and southern Iraq. Presently Kurdish women are somewhat isolated from the violence that women in central and southern Iraq are facing. Coalition forces have a minimal presence in Kurdistan and Kurdish Sulaimaniyah is currently reported as the safest city in Iraq.40 Nevertheless, Kurdish women, particularly living in rural regions, face high rates of honor killings, forced marriages, and recently reported—female genital mutilation.41
According to the Iraq Civil Society Program, 20 percent of the female population in northern Iraq has been circumcised.42 A startling study by WADI, an Iraqi Civil Society Organization, reports that 60 percent of interviewed rural Kurdish women have been mutilated by Sunna circumcision.43 The World Health Organization and UNICEF define female genital mutilation as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.”44 Recent research indicates that FGM in the Middle East is a growing issue and must be combated as a human rights violation.
In rural communities FGM is a long standing tradition. The practice in northern Iraq is viewed as a religious and cultural phenomenon derived from social codes of sexuality and morality. 45 Almost all interviewed women believe men prefer women who are circumcised and voice concerns about being unable to marry unless circumcised.46 Interestingly, men view female circumcision as “a female practice,” performed and perpetuated by women.47 Regardless of the reasons, female genital mutilation has considerable consequences and must be addressed. In Kurdistan, FGM is performed on young girls between the ages of four and twelve. Relatives, midwives, or neighbors perform FGM without anesthesia or sterile tools48 Many girls experience infection, profuse blood loss, and post traumatic stress syndrome. FGM sometimes results in death. Mutilated girls often suffer from chronic pain and infertility as adults.49 Today WADI, and various women’s organizations are combating FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan through advocacy and education workshops.
“The Security Council expresses concern that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and internally displaced persons…”50
Iraq has a history of displacement under Saddam Hussein’s rule during which time Shiites and Kurds were forcibly displaced. This “legacy of displacement” has intensified after the end of the Ba’ath regime in 2003.51 It is speculated that the refugee crisis in Iraq will become the most severe of all countries worldwide.53 An estimated two million Iraqis have been internally displaced since 2003. Another two million Iraqi refugees are fleeing to neighboring states, such as Jordan and Syria. According to the UNHCR, approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Iraqis are displaced each month, and the numbers are steadily rising. The highest number of displaced Iraqis is in al-Anbar province, where fighting and killing is occurring most heavily since late 2003.54 Tens of thousands of families from the al-Anbar province have fled to refugee camps, as fighting between the U.S. forces and the insurgency continues. Time magazine calls the al-Anbar province “the most dangerous place in Iraq.”55
The insecurity in Iraq has caused crises for all citizens, especially pertaining to health and resources. Unexploded ordinances are littered throughout Iraq, posing a constant threat to citizens. Unexploded ordinances, such as cluster bombs, are especially dangerous for children, who are killed or injured on a daily basis from coming in contact with an unexploded ordinance. 56 Soil and water systems contaminated with uranium will affect Iraqis for years to come. Iraqi doctors reported increases in babies born with deformities, especially in the south in April 2005. The prevalence of pulmonary infections and diarrhea has increased amongst the young and the elderly.57 According to UNICEF, 270,000 children born after the U.S. invasion did not receive immunizations, as routine immunization services were disrupted until June 2006. UNICEF reports that acute malnutrition in Iraqi children, caused by the food shortage and the body’s inability to retain nutrition, doubled since 2003.58
Only about 30 percent of Iraq’s population has access to potable water, and only 20 percent of the country’s population has sewage access. Housing has deteriorated, while the costs have peaked. 59 Zachia Hakki described the electricity shortage in Baghdad, where citizens were getting about two hours of electricity per day.60 Experts are anticipating internal displacement to become a permanent problem for an estimated 13 percent of Iraq’s population.61 Women are struggling to survive and because of this many are not aware of the politics in their newly “liberated” country. As an Iraqi blogger writes, “When your city is under fire and you’ve been displaced with your family to some Red Crescent tent in the middle of the desert, the last thing you worry about is a constitution.” 62
“The Security Council urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.”63
The U.S Department of State’s Office of International Women’s Issues claims that Iraqi women were at “the forefront of the formation of a democratic government” in the elections of 2005. The statistics provided by the Office of International Women’s Issues suggest successful implementation of Resolution 1325. The Office’s fact sheet states that over 2000 women ran for office in the 2005 parliamentary elections and that 31 percent of the seats eventually went to women.64 Yet, Zachia Hakki, appointed as Iraq’s first female judge in 1959, describes somber circumstances for women at the decision-making level after the U.S. invasion. She has received numerous death threats. She has experienced an assassination attempt, where sixty bullets were fired at her as she got into a vehicle. She has lost family members, who were abducted by militia groups.65 Female candidates for Parliamentary seats received such heavy threats, that many were deterred from campaigning. Campaign posters showing a woman’s face were vandalized and denounced; some candidates refrained from circulating any campaign materials at all.66 The guarantee that 25 percent of Parliament members are to be women does not necessarily translate into governance that will enable women’s rights.
The ministry of state for women’s affairs formed in July 2004 under the former interim Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi. Since then Iraq’s first permanent government has neglected the women’s affairs ministry. Saweba Nasraddin, the ministry’s executive director-general, stated that the department received $1,000 a month in 2005 and $2,000 a month in 2006—a paltry allocation compared to other ministries, which had budgets totaling upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars.67 Coalition forces also neglected to increase women’s participation in reconstruction efforts. The Women’s Initiatives program sought to allocate funds to women contractors, but in February 2006, the program director reported that out of the 260,000 reconstruction contracts awarded, less than 1,000 went to women.68 Lt. Col. Carl E. Mundy, responsible for reconstruction operations in southern Iraq stated, “We didn’t give special considerations to engaging the women…My concern was not stepping where I shouldn’t step, or dragging a woman in there that would anger the local men.” 69 Resolution 1325’s emphasis on women’s participation in the decision-making process of conflict resolution is not a reality in Iraq.
As Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh writes in the Financial Times, Iraqi women “are the first to suffer from lack of education and employment.”70 National unemployment figures have risen steeply since the occupation of the country by US-led forces three years ago. IRIN news estimates that approximately 70 percent of Iraqi women are unemployed today.71 Educated women are being forced to quit their professions due to violence and instability. Local NGOs report that an increasing number of female professionals are being driven to work as domestic servants. According to Mayada Zuhair, vice-president of the Women’s Rights Association of Iraq, “you find doctors working as hairdressers, dentists working as chefs and engineers working in Laundromats.”72 According to CodePink, the U.S. introduction of “free market reform” has attributed to the rising unemployment rates. Businesses are being privatized, jobs are being sent overseas, and public sector jobs are diminishing.73 Islamist groups are going to extreme measures to keep women out of leadership positions and out of jobs that they deem improper. Zachia Hakki recounted the tragedy of one of her friends, an Iraqi woman who was a gynecologist and political activist. Islamist militia members targeted her for working in opposition of their goals, and ultimately decapitated her in front of her children.74
Unemployment especially affects widowed women, who because of their social status, are often ostracized. 75 Many Islamists follow one interpretation of sharia, where widowed women are not permitted to have contact with the outside world and must remain in the home. Widowed women have a difficult time finding employment. Domestic positions become the only available work for most. Other widows, for whom domestic work is not possible, resort to mutaa. This “temporary marriage” or “pleasure marriage” is sanctioned by Shiite Muslims.76 Formerly under the old code, mutaa was discouraged. But since right-wing Islamist clerics hold more power after the end of the Ba’ath regime, mutaa becomes permissible. Thus temporary marriages are on the rise. 77
The “Brain Drain”
Unemployment is being perpetuated by waning education. Iraq is experiencing a “brain drain,” as academics are fleeing the country.78 Higher education has been compromised and the number of girls attending school has diminished. In 2005, a college picnic in Basra ended in tragedy as members of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mehdi militia attacked students at the event. Approximately 20-40 militia members charged into the park where over 500 students were gathered. They beat students, fired shots, and even abducted several people. Osama Adnan, a student who witnessed the event, stated that the militia men targeted the women, “They were beating them viciously. Without any discrimination.”79 Sheik Ahmed Al-Basri, an Al-Sadr follower said, “We beat them because we are authorized by [God] to do so, and that is our duty.”80
According to a report by Save the Children, 818,000 primary school students no longer attend school. This figure accounts for 22 percent of Iraq’s student population. Of the students not attending school, 74 percent are female. Thousands of Iraqi parents do not send their daughters to school because of the country’s insecurity. Researchers surmise that schools and universities are likely to continue emptying throughout 2007 unless displacement and insecurity issues are resolved.81 Zachia Hakki expressed her concerns for Iraq’s future, “We [women] suffer, but we have no choice. We need to make a change for our children”.82 Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes that without women’s representation in decision-making processes, peace and reconciliation will not be sustainable. The rights of Iraqi women and girls to safely work, attend school, and hold office must be protected.
Peter Beaumont argues that the violence against women in Iraq “would not be possible without a wider, permissive brutalizing of women’s lives: one that permeates the ‘new Iraq’ in its entirety.”83 President Bush identified Iraq’s enemies as “rejectionists and Saddamists and terrorists.”84 But, it is obvious that Iraqi women are facing many more adversaries. The worsening status of women in Iraq represents the failure of the Bush Administration to uphold resolution 1325 in the efforts to “democratize” the Iraqi government. UN Security Council 1325 must be implemented for sustainable peace to become a reality in Iraq.
White House News release, “President Discuses War on Terror and Upcoming Iraqi Elections,” December 12, 2005, at [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/12/20051212-4.html].
Raad Alkadiri and Chris Toensing, “The Iraqi Governing Council’s Sectarian Hue.” Middle East Report, 228, August 20, 2003, at [http://www.merip.org/mero/mero082003.html]
Iraq Body Count. “The minimum number of civilians killed is 60,411 and the maximum is 66,280,” at [www.iraqbodycount.org]
Johns Hopkins. Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Updated Iraq Survey Affirms Earlier Mortality Estimates,” Public Health News Center; October 11, 2006, at [http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2006/burnham_iraq_2006.html]
UN News Center, “Over 34,000 civilians killed in Iraq in 2006, says UN report on rights violations,” January 2007, at [http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=21241&Cr=iraq&Cr1]
UN News Center. “Over 34,000 civilians killed in Iraq in 2006, says UN report on rights violations,” January 2007, at [http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=21241&Cr=iraq&Cr1]
Dr. Huda al-Nuaimi had been interviewing female prisoners for Amnesty International. She is quoted in Annia Ciezadlo, “For Iraqi Women, Abu Ghraib’s Taint,” The Christian Science Monitor, May 28, 2004, at [http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0528/p01s02-woiq.html]
WADI reports that 907 out of 1544 interviewed women have been circumcised. Thomas von der Osten-Sacken and Thomas Uwer, “Is Female Genital Mutilation an Islamic Problem?” Middle East Quarterly, Vol. XIV:1, 2007.
Golnaz Esfandiari, “Iraq: Study Says Female Genital Mutilation Widespread in North,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Friday January 21, 2005, at [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/01/5c740d58-641a-4f32-b375-5c731a811634.html]
Rhoda Margesson, Jeremy M. Sharp, and Andorra Bruno, “Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: A Deepening Humanitarian Crisis?” Congressional Research Service Report, The Library of Congress, March 23, 2007.
Greenall, Robert. “Iraq's catalogue of death.” BBC News. Tuesday, 19 July 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4694123.stm
IRIN, “Iraq: Unemployment Forces Female Professionals Into Domestic Work,” July 25, 2006, at [http://irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=59876]
IRIN, “Iraq: Unemployment Forces Female Professionals Into Domestic Work,” July 25, 2006, at [http://irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=59876]
IRIN, “Iraq: Killings Drive Women to Become Suicide Bombers,” March 8, 2007, at [http://irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=70582]
IRIN, “Iraq: Children’s Education Gravely Affected By Conflict,” at [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=70697]