‘Wave Of Violence’ Against Women In Iraq Undercuts White House’s Claims Of Success

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has cited declining violence in Iraq as evidence of the success. Earlier this month, President Bush said that Iraqis are slowly “taking back their country.”

But last night, NBC Nightly News aired a segment about a “wave of violence that’s gone largely unreported lately against women in Iraq.” The report noted that Iraqi women, once “the most emancipated in the Arab world,” are increasingly unable to walk around without a hijab, wear cosmetics, or work. Watch the report:

Bush has largely ignored the deteriorating plight of Iraqi women, choosing instead to cite signs of “progress.” Yet earlier in the war, he and other administration officials repeatedly claimed that the rights of Iraqi women were “inseparable” to success:


“The advance of women’s rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable.” [President Bush, 3/14/04]

“President Bush has made the advance of women’s human rights a global policy priority. … We all have an obligation to speak for women who are denied their rights to learn, to vote or to live in freedom.” [Laura Bush, 3/8/05]

“The commitment of this administration to women’s rights in Iraq is unshakable.” [Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, 3/9/04]

“There can be no compromise on the principle that Iraqis can each have an equal role in the building of their country’s future without regard to their ethnic or religious background or gender.” [Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, 8/8/05]

Many Iraqi women who have fled to Syria are increasingly forced to turn to prostitution, as they struggle to support their children after their husbands were killed in Iraq’s violence.


WILLIAMS: NBC’s Tom Aspell tells us about another wave of violence that’s gone largely unreported lately against women in Iraq.

ASPELL: Iraqi women were once the most emancipated in the Arab world. Educated, allowed to work and vote, even allowed to divorce. Safia al-Suhail, a member of the Iraqi parliament, says those rights took years of struggle. But now:

SUHAIL: I’m sorry to say, women have started to lose.

ASPELL: Women have become targets in a campaign of brutal violence, especially in Iraq’s second largest city, Basra — conservative, and overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim. “We hear about girls who are kidnapped or killed,” says this woman. “And we don’t know why.”

The government knows why. Shiite militiamen and religious zealots are using Islam to tighten their control. This is a copy of a police file from Basra recording the details of more than 50 women murdered in the past five months. The police are often too scared to investigate the crimes.

Basra’s police chief says the murderers are Shiite extremists. “The women are killed, their bodies thrown in the streets with obscene notes attached. Some are stripped and dressed in scandalous clothing,” he says.

SUHAIL: Some of them were killed because they were not wearing the hijab — the veil, the scarf. And some of them just because they were using some make up, cosmetics. Some of them just because they had a profession.

TV actor Hadil Sabbagh (sp?), like many working Iraqi women, is under pressure to cover up. On assignment in Basra, threatening phone calls forced her to stay inside her hotel room. Even here in Baghdad, a much more sophisticated city, Islamic extremists threaten her because of the way she looks.

SABBAGH: They say they will kill me if they see me on tv again. But that doesn’t stop me from my job. I like it.

ASPELL: Another working woman, Sharm (sp?) has been threatened by Shiite militiamen. She says one of them has been harassing her for more than a year. First for sex, then insisting she stop working, dress modestly, and stop wearing make up, otherwise they’ll kill her. “He told me he could crush me like a pack of cigarettes,” she said.

ASPELL: Many Iraqi women see extremist threats as efforts to curtail their rights.

SABBAGH: They want us to be just like Taliban.

ASPELL: And that makes them more determined than ever to resist. Tom Aspell, NBC News, Baghdad.