Newsletter January-April 2004


It has been one year since the U.S. and British forces invaded and occupied the Iraqi territory. The primary pretext for the invasion was the allegation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction i.e. nuclear bombs. But as we all know, one year later the accusations are found to be completely baseless and it is the invaders who continue to possess the weapons of mass destruction!


On 20th March 2004 there were world—wide protests to oppose the continued occupation of Iraq by US and allied forces. In Delhi under the common banner of ‘Citizens Against War and Occupation’ hundreds of people joined the protest march. Saheli was also part of the 30-odd organisations including trade unions, students’ unions, women's groups, human rights’ groups who were active in organising and participating in the protest.


US and allies claim that they have worked for the benefit and betterment of Iraqi society. They have rid themselves of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime and are now there to offer a democratic solution to Iraq's problems. Admittedly, dictatorial regimes are not something we have ever supported, and in that sense we also think that Iraqi people should be governed by a democratic rule. However, the current efforts of the US government to establish a puppet regime and call it the best way to establish democracy in Iraq is a complete mockery of justice. Some of the facts about the recent invasion of Iraq by US, the role of US in the sustained destruction of Iraq and its economy, culture and infrastructure over the past 14 years are shocking. Clearly, commercial interests including control over Iraqi oil are the main reason for US invasion and continued occupation of Iraq - an example of the US Imperialist forces working at their worst!


Currently, the US is promoting social and religious divisions in Iraq: Shia versus Sunni, Kurds versus other Iraqis. This might directly feed into the kind of strife-associated violence earlier seen in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Bosnia, Congo and Algeria, or even In Gujarat in 2002. In addition to the impact of such wars on economy and polity, women in the occupied territories face a peculiar form of oppression and violence. It is noteworthy to map Iraqi women's status over the past five decades.


Status of women in Iraq: Before, during and after the Gulf Wars


During the economic prosperity of Iraq in the 1970's and 80's, despite Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime, women made significant progress. Their health and educational status improved and they were working outside their homes and earning their livelihood. Iraqi women were possibly the most emancipated in the region, despite the absence of any organised feminist movements.


After the first Gulf war in 1990, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions that changed the face of Iraq over the next decade and more. The worsening economic situation affected women the worst. Many more women were forced out of jobs than men. Islam was invoked as one source of Iraqi nationalism, and there were increasing restrictions on women including greater religious conservatism forcing them to wear the hijab. There was a rise in the number of ‘honour killings’ of women. Because of a demographic imbalance between men and women, polygamy became common and more acceptable as compared to the earlier years even in urban Iraq. Growing numbers of single women, widows and poor women were forced into prostitution to earn their living. There was widespread under nutrition and malnutrition (an increase in the undernourished populace from 4.5% in 1990 to 23.4% in 1994) - a direct consequence of the sanctions, and worsening of the maternal mortality rate (from 117 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 310 in 1994). During the process of establishing democratic rule in Iraq after the recent war, a progressive 1959 Family Code protecting women's rights in matters of divorce, maintenance, guardianship, etc., (preserved by the Saddam Hussein regime) has been abrogated to allow control by religious bodies in such family matters.


Violence on women as direct and indirect consequences of war


Women face sexual violence and brutality in two very different situations - one well documented by now and associated more directly with war, and the other a less direct form of domestic violence arising out of war situations.


In the first type of violence, women as combatants or civilians are subjected to brutal crime as a means of warfare - they are raped, tortured, injured, degraded, intimidated and punished for actual or alleged deeds attributed to them or members of their family. Rape is also used as a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ measure.


The second type of violence can be described as domestic violence against women in conditions of war and economic crisis. Both war and/or financial crisis can be a source of frustration and failure for men. Typically, the resultant stress has been seen to trigger domestic violence against women in all such places. Women as wives, mothers, sisters or friends of men report beginning or aggravation of violence as an aftermath of war. From Bosnia to Gujarat, men have used violence to release their stress and since this violence takes place in the domestic sphere rather than under the public gaze, it is easy to overlook counting it as war—associated violence. However, this is a clear consequence of the patriarchal system and it is not difficult to imagine Iraqi women facing both kinds of violence as a result of their situation today.


Experiences of Women from war-ravaged Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Rwanda and Congo


Post-television news violence

The men in the house became very aggressive after watching television news on a channel broadcasting war propaganda. Some women were beaten for the first time in their lives by their husbands: sometimes violence was abrupt, unexpected, or more drastic, and women learned to stay away from their partners at that time.

Violence associated with reign of soldiers

Following a defeat in the war and attaining refugee status, frustration of the soldiers manifested as violence. Sons molested mothers, husbands molested wives, brothers molested sisters, boyfriendmolested girlfriend, man molested his landlady - some of the frustrations was due to aggravation of social position and financial situation resulting from refugee status or from personal and/or societaleconomic crises. The violent behaviour was considered a consequence of their war traumas.

Failures of authorities to provide help

Ex-soldiers as molesters possessed weapons and that compounded the gravity of the situation. The Police failed to provide help when called upon to help by women. They also failed to take the weapons away from the ex-soldiers.

Failure of medical services

Medical services, eroded over decades of misrule, collapsed completely in many communities during the war. The lack of such assistance was particularly critical given the prevalence of HIV among soldiers and irregular combatants, estimated by one expert at 60 per cent among military forces in the region. With the increase in rapes, many women were exposed not just to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) but also to other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They, like many of those seriously injured by rape and other sexual assaults, have not been able to receive appropriate medical treatment.

Social stigma

Some of the rape victims were afraid of being stigmatised if they sought medical help. Many others who wished medical help had nowhere to go.


Impact on health: a consequence of the 1991 Gulf war on Iraqi people


·         In 1989, only 4.5% of the babies weighed less than 2.5 kg. By 2001 that percentage had increased to 24.7%, three times higher than other countries.

·         Use of Depleted Uranium (DU) during the gulf war has resulted in the high incidence of cancer and congenital deformations, particularly in southern Iraq.

·         Infants and children under 15 years of age suffered relatively more damage due to DU exposure. Some estimates mention that about 70% of the total dose delivered to the general population was received by infants and children.

·         Following are the major increases in the incidence of cancer noted in 1997-98: lung (5-fold), lymphoma (4—fold), breast (6—fold), larynx (4-fold) and skin (11—fold).

·         Incidence of cancers which were uncommon earlier went up even more significantly e.g. uterus (nearly 10-fold), colon (6—fold), hyper-nephroma (7-fold), malignant myeloma (16—fold), liver (11—fold) and ovaries (16-fold).

·         An estimated 845,000 tons of edible wild plants were contaminated with radioactive materials and 31% of the animal resources in the area were exposed to radioactive contaminants.


Some facts in the context of Iraqi occupation by US and its allies:


·         No Weapons of Mass Destruction were discovered in Iraq.

·         There are no intelligence reports of meaningful links between al-Qaeda and the Hussein regime.

·         US troops were not welcomed as liberators. There is strong continuing Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

·         The US did not invade to establish democracy, since it was the main supporter of the

·         repressive Hussein regime for years.

·         US-led sanctions since 1991 have killed some 15 lakh Iraqis including over 5 lakh children.

·         The US has used radioactive Depleted Uranium weapons in Iraq, leaving behind high radiation levels, birth deformities and cancers.

·         In addition to Iraqi soldiers, thousands of civilians have died or been injured in Iraq since last year including unarmed demonstrators.

·         The US is insisting that Iraq's huge national war debt cannot be cancelled as a Hussein regime debt, holding it over the heads of the Iraqi people as a weapon for subjugation.

·         Iraq has mass unemployment, wages are low, and trade union work is banned. Public services like food distribution. Electricity, water, health and education systems are in shambles.

·         There are currently almost 2 lakh US-led troops in Iraq, and troop presence is to be made permanent with immunity from the law

·         The US is auctioning Iraqi assets by grabbing Iraqi oilfields and selling Iraqi businesses to foreigners.

·         US-based companies are being given billion-dollar contracts in Iraqi ‘reconstruction’ by an Iraqi puppet government.

·         US-led control of Iraq, including the Interim Constitution, is organised to encourage ethnic and religious divisions to facilitate US control.

·  Indian government desperately wants a strategic military alliance with the US and a share of the “reconstruction” contracts the US is promising. It has supported the UN capitulation, endorsing theoccupation of Iraq without exerting any pressure for either withdrawal or elections.