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Haifa Zangara is a London-based Iraqi novelist                                                            
                                                           
  A group of Iraqi women recently met the U.S. ambassador in an effort to
  push the framers of Iraq's constitution not to limit women's rights. Many
  Western feminist groups and some Iraqi women activists fear Islamic law,
  which if enshrined as a main source of legislation will be used to
  restrict their rights, specifically in matters relating to marriage,
  divorce and inheritance. The U.S. shares this concern; Iraqi women more
  generally do not. Why?


  Most Iraqi women recognize, and try to sensitively cope with, the
  predicament of dealing with occupation and the rise of reactionary
  practices affecting their rights and way of life. This applies across the
  political and social class spectrum, for the secular left as much as for
  moderate Islamists and nationalists. They also feel that writing the
  constitution is not their priority for the time being. Iraqi women
  believe that it is important for the people concerned to be able to think
  clearly, to think of the future when writing such a crucial document. In
  order to do this, they must be liberated from immediate fears and be able
  to enjoy basic human rights, such as walking safely in the streets of
  their city.


  Iraqi women do not enjoy these privileges.


  Despite all the rhetoric about "building a new democracy," Iraqis are
  buckled under the burdens of abuse and plunder committed by members of
  the U.S.-led occupation force and its local Iraqi sub-contractors. Daily
  life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with tragedies and
  atrocities engulfing them.


  Human rights under occupation have proven to be a mirage similar to
  weapons of mass destruction. Torture and ill-treatment of members of
  political and armed groups, even the torture of children held in adult
  facilities, is widespread. Depleted uranium and other banned weapons have
  been used against various Iraqi cities by American and British troops,
  weapons including the MK-77 incendiary bomb, a modern form of napalm.


  Iraqi women were long the most liberated in the Middle East. Occupation
  has confined them to their homes. A typical Iraqi woman's day begins with
  the struggle to get the basics: electricity, petrol or a cylinder of gas,
  fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief for
  surviving death threats and violent attacks. For a majority of Iraqi
  women, simply venturing into the streets harbors the possibility of
  attack or kidnapping for profit or revenge. Young girls are sold to
  neighboring countries for prostitution.


  In the land of oil, 16 million Iraqis rely on monthly food rations for
  survival. They have not received any since May. Privatization threatens
  all free public services. Acute malnutrition has doubled among children.
  Unemployment at 70 percent is exacerbating poverty, prostitution,
  backstreet abortions and honor killings. Corruption and nepotism are
  rampant in the interim government. Gender is no obstacle. Layla
  Abdul-Latif, minister of transport under Iyad Allawi's regime, is under
  investigation for corruption. Her male colleague Ayham Al-Sammarai,
  former minister of electricity, managed to flee the country.


  Women's political participation in the interim government, national
  assembly and even the committee appointed to write the constitution
  follows a quota system imposed by Paul Bremer, the former de facto ruler
  of Iraq imposed by the U.S.. This is the man who engineered a process for
  reproducing the U.S.-appointed Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), to
  prolong the occupation and incite sectarian and ethnic conflicts.


  Iraqi women's historical struggle against colonial occupation for
  national unity, social justice and legal equality has been reduced to
  sheer bickering among a handful of "women leaders" over nominal political
  posts. The quota system has widened the gap between women members of
  interim governments and the majority of Iraqi women.


  Powerless, holed up in guarded areas or the US-fortified Green Zone,
  venturing out only in daylight with armed escorts and without any
  credibility among Iraqi women, the failure of these "leaders" is
  catastrophic. Like their male colleagues, they have adopted a selective
  approach to human rights, principally U.S.-oriented. The suffering of
  their sisters in cities showered with napalm, phosphorus and cluster
  bombs by U.S. jet fighters, the death of about 100,000 Iraqis -- half of
  them women and children -- is met with rhetoric about training women for
  leadership and democracy.


  Documents released March 7, 2005 by the American Civil Liberties Union
  show 13 cases of rape and abuse of female detainees. The documents
  revealed that no action was taken against any soldier or civilian
  official as a result.


  The documents also provide further evidence that U.S. troops have
  destroyed evidence of abuse and torture in order to avoid a repetition of
  last year's Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. The silence of women members
  of the National Assembly, interim government and all USAID-financed women
  NGOs is deafening. "Women's rights" in Iraq has become an absurd
  discourse chewing on meaningless words.


  No wonder that U.S.-financed women NGOs, who publicly preach women's
  rights and democracy, are suspected of being vehicles for foreign
  manipulation and are despised and boycotted, however much they manage to
  recruit liberal or left personalities.


  Iraqi women know that the enemy is not Islam. There is a strong antipathy
  to anyone trying to equate women's issues to the racist "war on terror"
  set up against the world of Islam. Women also know that traditional
  society, exemplified by the neighborhood and extended family, however
  restrictive at times, is not the enemy. In fact, it has been the mainstay
  and protector of women and children in both physical safety and welfare,
  despite lowest-common-denominator demands on dress and personal conduct.


  The enemy is the collapse of the state and civil society. And the culprit
  for that is the foreign military invasion and occupation.


  Haifa Zangara is a London-based Iraqi novelist.
 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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