For Iraqi Women, Human Rights Abuses Continue

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

Iraq is a disaster and every day more details surface to show us just how completely we, as a country, destroyed millions of lives.

Iraq is a disaster and every day more details surface to show us just how completely we, as a country, destroyed millions of lives.

My mother used to say that children take you places you didn’t know you wanted to go. For me, it’s Google News. Thanks to the miracle of keyword aggregation, I discovered a report from AlterNet depicting the homeless women left on the streets of Baghdad, living in constant fear of kidnapping, rape, and death.

In the midst of this shameful war, 135 families, about 750 people, hide in compounds-turned-shelters just outside of the Green Zone. The reporter spoke with Um Qasim, one such woman living with 13 family members in a "brick shanty" in Baghdad.

"Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way," she said. "We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here."

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And that’s while they still have a place to live. The local government plans to evict the Iraqis who have been living in the former government buildings since the occupation began. "The government gave squatters 60 days from Jan. 1 to leave or face legal action, but later decided to give them more time. No one knows when the next order might come."

Forcing them out would be putting the lives of every woman in unfathomable danger. Not only do they have to deal with the war, but the constant threat of violent sexual assault. According to the 2008 US Human Rights report on Iraq published yesterday by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, "in 2006 an academic researcher estimated that approximately 4,500 rapes occurred annually in the country, while government statistics from that year showed that 270, or 6 percent of the academic estimate, were actually reported to police." There is no trustworthy police force, therefore little hope for them to survive on the streets.

The report also revealed that individuals who try to improve the situation face unimaginable difficulty. "Women’s rights activists continued to be targeted by militant groups. On December 18, Nahla Hussain, the leader of the women’s league of the Kurdish Communist Party, was killed by gunmen in Kirkuk." She was at home alone, I found out, when the gunmen burst into her house and beheaded her. A beheading because she tried improve the living conditions of her fellow women. How can I, sitting alone in my New York apartment, even begin comprehend that kind of terror?

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