- BAGHDAD (IPS) -- Women face
increased risk of abduction by militias and criminal gangs as lawlessness
takes over the country.*
- Nobody is safe. Taysseer Al-Mashadani, the Sunni woman
minister from the al-Tawafuq political party was abducted by members of
the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army militia July 1 this year.
After being held for nearly three months, she was only released after
much pressure was applied from both the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
- Thousands of other women have not been so lucky. Many
have been executed, assaulted, or released only after their families paid
considerable ransom money.
- Few women like to talk about what they have to go through.
"I was taken by Americans for three days recently," Um Ahmed
told IPS in Baghdad. "They told me they would rape me if I didn't
tell them where my husband was, but I really didn't know."
- She said that she was turned over to the Iraqi National
Guard "who were even worse than the Americans."
- Her husband eventually surrendered to the U.S. military,
but she continued to be held "to apply pressure on him to confess
things he never did," she said. "They told him they would rape
me right in front of him if he did not confess he was a terrorist. They
forced me to watch them beat him hard until he told them what they wanted
- The Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq has estimated
from anecdotal evidence that over 2,000 Iraqi women have gone missing in
the period from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 until spring
- But numbers are not always reliable here. Thousands of
cases of abduction of women are never reported for fear of public disgrace.
- According to a study published by the Washington-based
Brookings Institute Dec. 4, between 30 to 40 Iraqis were being kidnapped
every day as of March this year. "The numbers on this table may be
lower than the actual number of kidnappings as the Iraqi Police suggest
wide underreporting," the study noted.
- These estimated numbers have drastically increased from
a reported rate of two kidnappings a day in Baghdad in January 2004, and
are up from the 10 a day reported in the capital city in December 2004
according to this study.
- Untold numbers of women, believed by many to be in the
thousands, have been abducted for money, and others have been abducted
for sectarian reasons. "My family had to pay 30,000 dollars to have
me released," a 25year-old woman told IPS, speaking on condition of
- Several abducted women have later been found dead, sometimes
beheaded. Others are never seen again.
- Fifty-two-year-old Um Wasseem from Baghdad was abducted
by U.S. forces and held at the Baghdad airport detention camp, her family
said. She was eventually released after political pressure from family
and friends who had some political muscle.
- "I wish she had not been released," her 20-year-old
son told IPS. "Militias then abducted her, and we found her body torn
to pieces in March this year."
- Many Iraqi academics and aid workers say most of those
being kidnapped now are women.
- "Women in Iraq used go to work, participate in social
activities and even take part in politics," sociologist Shatha al-Dulaimy
told IPS in Baghdad. "Iraqi women studied and worked side by side
with men, and they formed at least 35 percent of the national working
power in various fields of work until the U.S. occupation came. The occupation
has brought nothing but suffering, death or kidnapping to women here now."
- The U.S. administration promised Iraqi women a better
life with new opportunities, but the reality after three-and-a-half years
of occupation is far different. Iraqi women were promised 25 percent of
the seats in parliament. As it turned, out, the Iraqi National Assembly
has 85 women in a total of 275 members following elections held Dec. 15,
2005. But that has not translated into more rights for women across Iraq.
- "We are just a part of the décor arranged
by Americans who wanted to convince the world of the 'tremendous' change
in Iraq," a female member of the Iraqi parliament told IPS on condition
of anonymity. "Our (women's) voice is never heard inside or outside
- Female members of the new Iraqi Parliament take little
part in major political decisions or when it comes to forming committees.
Many female members were elected for religious or tribal reasons, she
- The MP expressed concern over a rise in "religious
extremism" because people are being "led by clerics who spent
their lives learning how to make women obey their orders and present them
with the best services at home." Such extremism has been a large
factor in the rising number of women being kidnapped, she said.
- "What women's rights," said 38-year-old schoolteacher
Assmaa Fadhil. "Those who talk about it are ignorant people who want
women to be slaves and concubines rather than partners in life. They are
using old traditions to crush women and keep them away from any real participation
- Fadhil says lack of respect for women's rights has increased
the threat of women getting abducted simply as they step out of their
- "Most of us now stay at home unless we absolutely
must go out for food," Fadhil said. "Because we know so many
women who have been kidnapped, it is only a matter of time for us if we
continue traveling around the city."
- Denial of rights for women in the name of Islam is not
what Islam is all about, Sheikh Ahmed of the Sunni religious group, the
Association of Muslim Scholars, told IPS. "Muslim women are granted
full rights of work and social participation. It is tradition that limits
women's activity nowadays, rather than religion."
- Most Iraqi women are fearful about their future as long
as the country is led by Islamists.
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