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Remember Iraqi women on International Women's Day

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International Women's Day, March 8, should be a global day of celebration over the economic, political and social achievements of women worldwide.

Instead I mourn what my government has done to the women of Iraq.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have brought an alarming increase in violence against women, including "honor killings" by religious fundamentalists. Women who do not subordinate their role to that of property of male family members have no value among the fundamentalists.

The Iraq Freedom Congress, a grassroots political movement headquartered in Baghdad, issued a statement congratulating women worldwide on International Women's Day and asked that people everywhere stand with the women of Iraq as they face oppression from sectarian gangs.

While hundreds of women have been murdered by religious gangs, unveiled women are routinely targeted and threatened with violence if they don't wear hajibs and follow strict Islamic law. The government has not moved to stop the violence or the threats, according to the Iraq Freedom Congress.

"Iraq Freedom Congress stands at the forefront of the struggle to expel these bandits from Iraq," said Amjad Al-Jawhary, an IFC spokesperson.

The international protests against sexual discrimination are growing louder every year, says Al-Jawhary, and yet in Iraq, "the discrimination against women by sectarian militias linked to mullahs in Iran and groups of Al Qaeda has reached the level of sexual genocide, particularly in the cities of Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala.

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These groups have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity, and women in particular."

The U.S. military occupation has "turned a blind eye" to the work of the religious gangs, said Al-Jawhary. He suggests that both the occupation forces and the present government have surrendered Iraq and future generations to the criminals through their failure to reign in the gangs.

"We must put an end to the killing of women," said Fryal Akbar, head of the IFC's Women's Bureau at a press conference in Bagdad held earlier this year to draw attention to the escalation of violence against women.

"Women today have every right to defend themselves against the religious and sectarian gangs by all means." She also warned that the IFC will not stand by watching crimes being committed without consequences. "From our experience, these gangs will not put an end to their crimes unless serious action is taken."

A year ago today, Yifat Susskind of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization headquartered in New York, wrote "Since the United States invaded, Iraqi women have endured a wave of death threats, assassinations, abductions, public beatings, targeted sexual assaults and public hangings.

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Both Sunni and Shiite Islamist militias direct much of this violence. These groups mushroomed across Iraq after the United States toppled the secular Baath regime. Ironically, the Shiite militias are the armed wings of the political parties that the U.S. boosted into power. Their aim is to establish an Islamist theocracy and their social vision requires the subjugation of women."

Suhad Salim, another member of the IFC Women's Bureau, described a young woman's sense of hopelessness. "The deterioration of the security situation, the intervention of the political Islamic groups into everyone's personal life and the enforcement of the Islamic law on the street has forced women to quit both school and work to stay home seeking safety. These conditions create desperation and hopelessness in life leading many women to buy shrouds and wait for their death.

"I asked Sawsan Ali of Althawra city who is 30 years old why she quit school and stays home. She has lost her ambition and tends to think about death. Sawson answered: "There's no hope for safety in the foreseeable future, my rights as a woman do not exist. Everything is against me as a human: family, traditions and culture. Killing and terrorizing women have become a daily show. Why should I live? I cannot go to school safely or voice my opinion. Whatever I do is opposed by others. Basically nothing is left to live for, therefore I am preparing for death."


Kathlyn Stone is a Minnesota-based writer covering science and medicine, health care and related policies.-She publishes, a health and science news site.

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