SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq <http://www.washtime s.com/themes/ ?Theme=Iraq>

 

 Four gunshots through the kitchen window. Two to the leg, one to the stomach, one
to the head. The woman, who will remain unnamed for her safety, survived the
attack, but she is still in hiding.

“For seven years, it was a secret place for housing women,” said Kazhal Ali,
the administrator of Asuda, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in
northeastern Iraq that runs shelters for abused women, including the one who
was attacked.

“Now it is discovered,” Ms. Ali said, “and we changed the shelter to another
place.”

Women in Iraq are under more pressure to conform to Islamic traditions that
strictly limit their rights and opportunities.

The wounded woman’s brother, husband and two brothers-in- law have since been
arrested – by police officers who only recently began investigating and
charging those accused of attacking women.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Interior Ministry has given officials
the authority to ensure that cases of violence against women are processed.

But the male-dominant culture remains in Iraq, even in the semiautonomous
northern Kurdish region and even though Iraqis no longer face the brutality
of Saddam <http://www.washtime s.com/themes/ ?Theme=Saddam+ Hussein> Hussein’s
government.

Life after Saddam has proved a mixed blessing for many women, who face
religious extremism in a nation once considered among the Middle East’s most
progressive for women’s rights.

Throughout the country, women reported increasing pressure to wear veils,
including within government ministries,” according to the U.S. State
Department’s latest report on human rights in Iraq.

Women were targeted for undertaking normal activities, such as driving a
car, and wearing trousers, in an effort to force them to remain at home,
wear veils and adhere to a conservative interpretation of Islam,” the report
says.

Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq,
said: “The current constitution has taken away … laws that used to give us
some sort of level of protection.”

The 2005 constitution forbids “violence and abuse in the family.” But it
also prohibits laws that contradict Islam, a move that often devolves into
strict interpretations of Islamic law more akin to those in Iran and the
former Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

“Iraqis are free in their commitment to their personal status according to
their religions, sects, beliefs or choices,” says one passage in the
constitution that particularly troubles Ms. Mohammed.

“They left the women of Iraq in this new constitution as a victim of Shariah
law.”

That, she said, has led to an increase in poverty, women heading single
households, polygamy, teen marriages and even sex trafficking and forced
prostitution, a claim backed by the State Department report.

Iraqi women were breaking ground as far back as the 1920s and ’30s, when it
had female lawyers, doctors and judges.

Despite the cruelty during more than three decades under Saddam, Iraq
recognized and protected women’s rights during the early years of rule by
Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.

But as the dictator tightened his grip on power, more women were left out in
order for men to have the limited number of jobs, especially during the
period of U.N. sanctions prior to 2003.

Saddam ensured support from some tribes by easing penalties for men who
killed female family members.

“It changed in the last 10 years of Saddam because if you’re not a
Ba’athist, you cannot have any opportunity, ” said Azza Khalil-Humadi, an
Iraqi who had moved to the United States and is back working in Iraq.

She said freedom of speech has emerged to an extent in Iraq, but other
rights have disappeared.

At business conferences she attended or organized since the U.S.-led
invasion toppled Saddam, Ms. Khalil-Humadi increasingly noticed the more
conservative dress of a strict Muslim culture.

“All of a sudden, Iraq is wearing black and scarves,” she said. “The country
is moving to this extreme religion, which I hadn’t seen before.

“This is worse than Saddam.”

Women for Women International polled Iraqi women and found that a majority
said their lives had deteriorated since 2004.

Slightly more than 76 percent “said that girls in their families are not
allowed to attend school, and 56.7 percent said that girls’ ability to
attend school has gotten worse since the U.S. invasion.”

In Kurdistan, the regional government is attempting to enforce laws against
violence, and authorities hope more cases of domestic abuse will be
reported.

With this awareness, women will not accept violence by family members, said
Twana Ali Kamal, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s
Interior Ministry directorate that tracks cases of violence against women in
Sulaimaniyah.

From July 2007 to May 2008, Mr. Kamal’s office has followed up on 304 cases.
Dozens are reported to the small but growing staff each month.

“We are watching crimes and violence against women rising in Kurdistan,” he
said.

In recounting the shooting at the Asuda shelter, Mr. Kamal added: “In a
secret way, this directorate got the women out of Sulaimaniyah to protect
them.”

 

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