In the absence of the state, some mosques provide basic services, running clinics or schools. In addition to the call to prayer, their loudspeakers warn people of impending attacks or to appeal for blood donors.
In Muqdadiyah, 50 miles from Baghdad, a woman wearing a traditional Iraqi abaya blew herself up this week in the midst of Iraqi police recruits. This was the seventh suicide attack by a woman since the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, and an act unheard of before that. Iraqi women are driven to despair and self-destruction by grief.
Their expectations are reduced to pleas for help to clear the bodies of the dead from the streets, according to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, released on Wednesday. It’s the same frustration that drew hundreds of thousands to demonstrate against foreign forces in Najaf recently.
In the fifth year of occupation, the sectarian and ethnic divide between politicians, parties and their warring militias has become monstrous, turning on its creators in the Green Zone and beyond, and not sparing ordinary people. One of the consequences is a major change in the public role of women.
During the first three years of occupation women were mostly confined to their homes, protected by male relatives. But now that the savagery of their circumstances has propelled many of them to the head of their households, they are risking their lives outdoors. Since men are the main target of US-led troops, militias and death squads, black-cloaked women are seen queuing at prisons, government offices or morgues, in search of disappeared, or detained, male relatives. It is women who bury the dead. Baghdad has become a city of bereaved women. But contrary to what we are told by the occupation and its puppet regime, this is not the only city that is subject to the brutality that forces thousands of Iraqis to flee their country every month.
Bodies are found across the country from Mosul to Kirkuk to Basra. They are handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-ridden, bearing signs of torture. They are dumped at roadsides or found floating in the Tigris or Euphrates. A friend of mine who found her brother’s body in a hospital’s fridge told me how she checked his body and was relieved. “He was not tortured”, she said. “He was just shot in the head.”
Occupation has left no room for any initiative independent of the officially sanctioned political process; for a peaceful opposition or civil society that could create networks to bridge the politically manufactured divide. Only the mosque can fulfill this role. In the absence of the state, some mosques provide basic services, running clinics or schools. In addition to the call to prayer, their loudspeakers warn people of impending attacks or to appeal for blood donors.
According to the Red Cross, “the number of people arrested or interned by the multinational forces has increased by 40 percent since early 2006. The number of people held by the Iraqi authorities has also increased significantly.”
Many of the security detainees are women who have been subjected to abuse and rape and who are often arrested as a means to force male relatives to confess to crimes they have not committed. According to the Iraqi MP Mohamed Al-Dainey, there are 65 documented cases of women’s rape in occupation detention centers in 2006. Four women currently face execution - the death penalty for women was outlawed in Iraq from 1965 until 2004 - for allegedly killing security force members. These are accusations they deny and Amnesty International has challenged.
There is only one solution to this disaster, and that is for the US and Britain to accept that the Iraqi resistance is fighting to end the occupation. And to acknowledge that it consists of ordinary Iraqis, not only Al-Qaeda, not just Sunnis or Shiites, not those terrorists - as Tony Blair called them - inspired by neighboring countries such as Iran. To recognize that Iraqis are proud, peace-loving people, and that they hate occupation, not each other.
And to understand that the main targets of the resistance are not Iraqi civilians. According to Brookings, the independent US research institute, 75 percent of recorded attacks are directed at occupation forces, and a further 17 percent at Iraqi government forces. The average number of attacks has more than doubled in the past year to about 185 a day. That is 1,300 a week, and more than 5,500 a month. Another way of understanding this is that in any one hour, day or night, there are seven or eight new attacks. Without the Iraqi people’s support, directly and indirectly, this level of resistance would not have happened.
Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi exile who was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, is the author of Women on a Journey: Between Baghdad and London.