Iraqi woman activist on US occupation

These two videos say about themselves:

Houzan Mahmoud speaks at the ‘Remember Du’a and denounce honour killings globally’ conference in April 08 in London. Du’a Khalil Aswad, a 17 year-old girl, was stoned to death in Iraqi Kurdistan in April 07. The conference was organised by the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

By Louise Nousratpour in Britain:

Brutalised for Western profit

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Iraqi activist Houzan Mahmoud is too young to remember the 1963 CIA-backed coup against Abdel Karim Kassem.

Five years earlier General Kassem had ousted the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy and retrieved land and oil from the British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company.

During the overthrow tens of thousands of communists, along with much of Iraq‘s democratic-minded educated elite, were dragged out of their homes and shot in the streets. Their “crime” had been to support a leader who was on good terms with the Soviet Union.

But while Mahmoud cannot recall this bloody episode first hand she remembers well the oppressive years under Saddam Hussein, who was installed a few years after the coup and was supported by the West – until he too showed signs of defection.

The bloody removal of Kassem was almost a carbon copy of the joint CIA/MI6 coup in neighbouring Iran 10 years earlier against democratic leader Mohammed Mossadeq, who also tried to nationalise his country’s oil.

“The West, which has been instrumental in defeating progressive forces in the region for generations, now dare to label us backwards. How dare they portray our women as burqa-wearing, submissive victims and our men as a bunch of bearded, misogynist terrorists?” says Mahmoud.

“They have installed a corrupt regime in my homeland, supporting its reactionary laws in the name of respect for Iraq‘s traditional values.

“In the same manner they called Saddam’s savage execution Iraqi justice, but we know they instigated the lynching to stop him from incriminating them in an open court.”

No-one knows for certain how many Iraqi women and children have been sold into sex slavery since the US-led Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

The group that Mahmoud works for, the Baghdad-based Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), puts the figure in the tens of thousands.

“Crimes that were virtually unheard of before have now become commonplace. So-called honour killings have shot through the roof and mass unemployment has pushed many women, especially war widows, into prostitution,” she says.

Women have all but disappeared from public life for fear of being raped, killed, kidnapped or trafficked to foreign countries.”

Once Iraqi women‘s legal rights and freedoms were the envy of their oppressed sisters in much of the Middle East. No more.

Thanks to the benign humanitarian intervention of two Christian extremists, they too face the prospect of an autocratic regime that sanctions misogyny in the name of religion.

Mahmoud points out that legislation allowing polygamous marriages was passed last year by the puppet Kurdistan regional government despite public outrage.

And Iraq‘s draft constitution has paved the way for oppressive sharia law.

“But the left is fighting back and will rise from the ashes, as we have done in the past,” says Mahmoud, who visits Iraq regularly and is active in her country’s rejuvenated women’s rights and union organisations.

Unionised oil workers in the south have been a constant thorn in the side of US and Britain’s plans to control Iraq’s rich resources. And since its foundation in June 2003 OWFI has organised thousands-strong demonstrations, seminars and campaigns against the occupation and for a secular, democratic Iraq.

The group also provides shelter and support for victims of domestic violence and women fleeing pimps and traffickers, though a lack of resources is a major obstacle.

“We brought 2,000 women out on the streets of Baghdad on International Women’s Day in 2004 at the height of the war, when women hardly dared go out,” Mahmoud recalls proudly.

“Since then we have had many successful campaigns, including breaking the silence around prostitution and forcing a debate on trafficking which has now led to a draft legislation to clamp down on it.”

Mahmoud emphasises that OWFI “is the opposite of many of the sectarian organisations that we have to contend with. We have secular women working side by side their veiled sisters. And many men support our campaign because they grew up in a society that was not so brutalised in terms of gender relations.”

The organisation’s wide appeal and its uncompromising stance have made it unpopular with the US-backed government, which is refusing to grant it NGO status.

“They have their own NGO stooges who have no grass-roots base and operate from plush offices, with huge salaries and private security,” Mahmoud says.

Back in Britain, she is forging links with progressive groups to raise awareness about the impact of the wars in the Middle East on working-class communities in this country and to challenge the West’s sinister portrayal of Iraqi and Afghan people as savages who need rescuing from themselves.

“Blowback” – the violent consequences of the war on terror – has expressed itself in disturbing ways.

Army recruiters target teenagers in deprived areas ravaged by mass unemployment. Brutalised by war and abandoned by the state that sent them there, increasing numbers of returning soldiers on both sides of the Atlantic are bringing the violence back to their own homes and communities in the form of drug misuse, domestic abuse and homicide.

“In times of war, violence, especially against women, increases as a result of a more militarised and macho society,” Mahmoud observes.

“Because minority communities continue to be treated as the enemy within … they are ever more vulnerable to racist attacks.

“Is it any surprise that some turn back to the musty comforts of reactionary and patriarchal tradition, when they are far away from the familiarity of ‘home,’ experiencing hostility and racism in their ‘civilised’ new home?

“This, in part, manifests itself in increased violence against women – honour killing, forced marriage.”

But Mahmoud fears there is an unhealthy focus on cases of domestic abuse and so-called honour killing in ethnic minority communities which serves to drive a wedge between them and the rest of society.

“There is an element of media bias and it goes back to the same racist attitude which seeks to portray these communities as savage, non-integrating aliens,” she argues.

Mahmoud is also concerned that the focus on grimly exotic, headline-grabbing “honour killings” serves to distract attention from the shocking levels of violence against women in wider society.

“The fact that in Britain two women a week are killed by a current or former partner is a form of honour killing,” Mahmoud points out, adding: “Women are constantly told they are ugly and fat and encouraged to have cosmetic surgery and to go on a diet – that too is violence against women.

“The difference is that, while in the Middle East the violence is often backed or sanctioned by law, here it’s sold to us as pop culture, fashion or even girl power.”

For Mahmoud, what unites us is the fact that we “all live in a class-based capitalist system,” a system that she believes we can only overcome “by fighting for our common class interest – for socialism.”

US Refuses to Allow UN Inspectors to Investigate its WMDs: here.

33 thoughts on “Iraqi woman activist on US occupation

  1. The ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq becomes an army of one

    By Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers

    BAGHDAD, Iraq — The British said cheerio back in July, around the same time the Romanians cleared out “Camp Dracula,” their compound on a U.S. base in southern Iraq. Tonga and Kazakhstan left ages ago, and no one seems to remember if any Icelandic forces ever made it to Iraq.

    It doesn’t matter now, anyway, because as of Friday, former president George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” formally ceased to exist, leaving only the U.S. military’s 130,000 or so forces to shepherd their Iraqi counterparts through a volatile election season before a full American troop withdrawal that’s expected by the end of 2011.

    U.S. commanders officially disbanded the Multinational Force Iraq, or MNF-I, and introduce the USF-I, or U.S. Force Iraq, at a ceremony Friday in Baghdad. American soldiers and officers said the transition is largely a formality because they’ve been going it alone since the summer.

    Iraqis also said the change barely registers. To them, there’s never been a question that Americans were in charge for these tumultuous past six years.

    “There’s no difference, even if they change the name,” said Mohammed Abdul Jabar, 40, a furniture salesman in Baghdad. “The main enemy, the ones who destroyed the country, who disbanded our military, it’s the Americans. If I see a fighter jet loaded with missiles, do I wonder whose it is? No, it’s always been the Americans.”

    American officials spin the disbanding of the coalition differently, saying the end of the MNF-I brings Iraqis one step closer to regaining real sovereignty, “a new era in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” as one news release put it. On the lack of sovereignty, Iraqis agree. The name change is another matter.

    In several street interviews, Iraqis of different backgrounds were asked how many members of the coalition they could name besides the U.S. and Britain. Some correctly identified the Italians (3,200 troops) and the Australians (2,000 troops). Others confidently named France, which refused to join.

    “Coalition? Well, truthfully, we always called them the occupation forces,” said Yousra Abdul Zahra, 47, whose son lives away from home because the family still can’t tell its neighbors that he works as a translator for the U.S. military. “But I do worry that if they leave, what happens to my son? As a mother, I’m scared.”

    For the military, the name change also brings some structural tweaks. USF-I will bring five command groups under a single headquarters, streamlining some operations and shrinking the American footprint.

    That might be the easy part. Getting soldiers to use “USF-I” instead of “MNF-I” is trickier.

    The U.S. military is staking its claim to the new acronym through a Twitter account and a Facebook page. One military-affiliated group already produces a USF-I T-shirt printed with the slogan, “Return with Honor,” and it’s probably only a matter of weeks before base commissaries are stocked with souvenir USF-I battle coins and uniform patches.

    For now, however, a Google search of “USFI” turns up the Unmarried and Separated Fathers of Ireland and the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, a revolutionary socialist group.

    “At certain levels and with certain people, I think that MNF-I will still be used for many months and many years. We say MNF-I or MNC-I and it kind of rolls off the tongue,” said Army Master Sgt. Edward Kosbab of El Paso, Texas, who’s in southern Iraq with the 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division from Fort Bliss, Texas.

    Southern Iraq, a mostly Shiite Muslim region whose homogeneity made it relatively more stable than Baghdad or the north, was home to the biggest contingents of non-U.S. forces: Japanese, Australian, Italian, Romanian and British, among others.

    “The British had that strong accent, but it was fun,” recalled Sgt. Maj. Craig Youngblood, 37, of Miami, Fla. “I remember ‘dungarees.’ It was pants or something.”

    U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Lauro Obeada, 42, who was born in Romania and speaks the language, grew especially close to the Romanian troops on his base in the southern city of Nasiriyah. He said American forces viewed their coalition partners as equals, shared their grief over casualties and were united by a mission to stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

    Sometimes, though, that unity was tested on the playing field.

    “When it came to American sports, we did well,” Obeada said. “When it came down to soccer, they pretty much whupped us bad.”

    As the Romanians prepared to leave last summer, Obeada was singled out at some of their transition activities because of his Romanian heritage. When he watched them depart, he said, it hit him that he was witnessing the end of the coalition.

    “Obviously, having other countries here was better, and I wish they could’ve stayed until the mission was completed, but it’s OK,” Obeada said. “Now it’s just us and the Iraqis, and we can carry this through.”


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