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2011-12-16

Iraqi Women’s Activist Rebuffs U.S. Claims of a Freer Iraq: "This Is Not a Democratic Country"

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Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, joins us to discuss the impact of the nearly nine-year U.S. occupation, particularly on Iraqi women. "The Iraqi cities are now much more destroyed than they were, I would say, like five years ago," Mohammed says. "In the same time, we have turned to a society of 99 percent poor and 1 percent rich, due to the policies that were imposed in Iraq." Mohammed decries the repression of Iraqi protesters that joined the Arab Spring in a February 25th action. "The women are the biggest loser in all of this. We went to the Iraqi squares. We demonstrated. The Arab Spring was there very strongly but got oppressed in ways that were new to Iraqi people. Anti-riot police of the American style was something that we witnessed there... This is not a democratic country." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We wanted to also bring into this discussion Yanar Mohammed. She is president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Usually in Iraq, she right now is joining us from Toronto.

Yanar, talk about this last more than eight years of the invasion and the occupation.

YANAR MOHAMMED: If I start with the basics, the Iraqi cities are now much more destroyed than they were, I would say, like five years ago. All the major buildings are still destroyed. If you drive in the streets of the capital, your car cannot survive more than one month, because all the streets are still broken. So there was no reconstruction for the buildings, for the cities.

And in the same time, we have turned to a society of 99 percent poor and 1 percent rich, due to the policies that were imposed in Iraq. While Iraq has more than one million widows—some of the counts say one million, some of the counts say two million widows—these widows try to survive on a salary of $150, and most of them cannot get this salary because they don’t have proper ID due to internal displacement. And in the same time, the 1 percent, who lives—of Iraqis, who lives in the Green Zone, they drown in a sea of money. And there was a scandal of losing $40 billion from the annual budget of the country, and nobody is accountable for it. So we have—after nine years, we have the most corrupt government in the world.

We are divided to a society of Shias, who are ruling, and Sunnis, who want to get divided from the country of Iraq. We are now on the verge of the division of country according to religions. And to ethnicities, it has already happened. We know that the Kurdish north is now a Kurdistan, the region of Kurdistan. And the constitution that we have in Iraq allows everybody to get divided or to get their autonomy. So now the Sunni parts of Iraq, they want to be their own agents. They don’t want to be part of the central government anymore. And in the same time, destruction is everywhere. Poverty is for all the people but the 1 percent who are living inside the Green Zone.

And I would like to add one thing. If President Obama wants to make it sound like one unified society, that’s not the true story. We are living in a huge military camp, where one million Iraqi men are recruited in the army. And on top of that, there’s almost 50,000 militia members, of the Sadr group and the other Islamist group, who are not only local militias, like army within the country, but they are now being exported to other countries to oppress the Arab Spring in Syria and maybe later on in other countries. We are not a united country, because the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is another country, has the upper hand in Iraq. And the decisions that were done lately about who stays from the Americans and who doesn’t stay inside Iraq was due to the pressure of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are the decision makers in Iraq.

And the biggest loser out of all of this are the women. Now, by the constitution, there are articles that refer us to the Islamic sharia, when this was not in action in the times of the previous regime. Under Islamic sharia, women are worth half a man legally and one-quarter of a man socially in a marriage. And we still suffer under this. As a women’s organization, we daily meet women who are vulnerable to being bought and sold in the flesh market. We see widows who have no source of income, and nobody to get them IDs for themselves and their children, because they have been internally displaced. So poverty and discrimination against women has become the norm. And the government doesn’t care much about this. They talk about it a lot, but not much is being done about it. And—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yanar, I’d like to ask you, on another matter, the—we had a quote earlier in the show from President Obama saying that, unlike historical empires of the past, the United States doesn’t go into countries for territory or resources, but because it’s right. Could you talk to us about what has happened to the resources of Iraq, to the oil of Iraq? To what degree now are American companies involved that they were not before the war?

YANAR MOHAMMED: In the last year, we were told that Iraq’s economy is going to be changing, and there’s going to be a new phase of investment. But in reality, those who were invited into the Green Zone were surprised to see that it’s all about privatization, that we have new foreign oil companies. Some of them are already functioning in the south, like British Petroleum, who have an oil field from which they are extracting oil.

They are beginning to—they have brought some foreign workers to work in there, and they have totally discriminatory workplaces where the foreigner is paid much more than the Iraqi. I was told that the foreigners are paid in the thousands of dollars monthly, while an Iraqi employees is paid something like $400. And even the workplaces are very discriminatory and racist, in the sense that the foreigner workers are treated much better than the Iraqi employees.

And the question is, how did they get these foreign oil companies to come into Iraq? Like British Petroleum is one of them. It has many oil fields. It’s functioning. It’s extracting Iraqi oil. On which terms? We, the Iraqi people, don’t know. On which agreement did they come and they are functioning fully in Iraq? We, the Iraqi people, don’t know.

And the question is, why is all the money being shared by the 1 percent who are ruling Iraq and the U.S. administration and all these multinational companies, while the Iraqi widows cannot even have $150 as a salary? Most of the widows we’ve met in our organization do not have one penny coming into their pockets. No government finds themselves accountable for the women of Iraq, who have been turned deprived because of this war.

And I would like to add one thing. There is a new generation of women and men in Iraq who are totally illiterate. You see a woman in her twenties. She might have children, or not, and that’s another story about the widows. But she has witnessed no schooling because of the sectarian war, because of the war on Iraq. It’s a generation of illiteracy in Iraq, while, before this war, you know, we know that Iraq in the 1980s, and even in the following years, it had the highest literacy rate in the Arab world.

And the last point I would like to add, and I would have liked you to ask me about it, is the Arab Spring, when it started in Iraq, specifically on the day of February 25. When the government held a curfew in all the Iraqi cities, especially in Baghdad, we had to walk three hours to reach to the Tahrir Square of Baghdad, and 25,000 people were in that square expressing their political will that this is not the political system that they want to rule them—the Islamist government of the Shia, who is oppressing all the others, the Sunni, who are oppressed in the west, the ethnic divisions on the people.

And mind you, the gender divisions? In the Tahrir Square of Baghdad, many of us women were there, and we were so respected. Nobody told us to put on the veil on, while in these days the prime minister’s office is spreading out policies that all the female workers in the public sector will have to wear decent dress code—decent as in respecting our culture. The prime minister is imposing a mentality of discriminating against women based on Islamic sharia, while the demonstrators of the Arab Spring in Iraq want an egalitarian society.

And one thing that this new democracy, so-called democracy, proved in Iraq is that they were the best in oppressing the Arab Spring in Iraq. They sent us police, army and anti-riot groups to shoot us with live ammunition in the Tahrir Square. They detained and they tortured hundreds and thousands of us demonstrators. And this is because we only led a free demonstration.

And this is not only one demonstration. All the Fridays since the beginning of February have witnessed demonstrations in the main squares of Iraq—Baghdad, Sulaymaniyah, Basra, Samarra, all of Baghdad. People went into the squares, and there were no slogans of asking for a religious government. The U.S. administration came into Iraq: it divided the Iraqi people according to religion, according to their sect, according to their ethnicity. It’s divide and conquer. And now the women are the biggest loser in all of this. We went to the Iraqi squares. We demonstrated. The Arab Spring was there very strongly but got oppressed in ways that were new to Iraqi people. Anti-riot police of the American style was something that we witnessed there. The big vehicles that sprayed us with the hot water, polluted water, pushed us out of these squares. And sound bombs were thrown at us, live ammunition, the full works. This is not a democratic country. And it is not united, because it’s being divided into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar, I wanted to end by going back to the beginning, if you will, going back to 2003 to the words of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after the fall of Baghdad.

DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad, are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. We are seeing history unfold, events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people, and potentially the future of the region.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Rumsfeld in 2003. Yanar, we have 30 seconds. Your final response?

YANAR MOHAMMED: I think that the victims and the parents of the victims of this war, the half-a-million dead of this war, were not invited to the celebration of the U.S. and the military in Baghdad. They should have been invited to give their say about this Iraqi war that left their families hungry and poor and really unable and helpless.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammed, I want to thank you for being with us, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.

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