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“This War Has Unleashed The Freedom For Political Islam To Oppress Women”–Leading Iraqi Feminist Yanar Mohammed Dicusses the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq

StoryJanuary 05, 2004
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We hear part 2 of our conversation with Yanar Mohammed, a leading figure of women’s struggle in Iraq. She is one of the founding members of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Al-Mousawat. [includes transcript]

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting that six months before Saddam Hussein’s capture was announced, Kurdish forces had discovered that Saddam’s wife was in the Tikrit area. This intelligence, most likely obtained by a PUK special forces unit, was transferred to the Americans. The Kurds, however, are said to have never received any follow-up from the coalition forces on the intelligence and were furious. This report comes two weeks after the Sunday Express of Britain reported that Saddam was actually captured by Kurdish forces who then drugged him and abandoned him for U.S. troops to find after Kurdish leaders had brokered a deal. The article quoted unnamed British and Iraqi military intelligence officers. The Express also reported that secret talks are underway to sentence Saddam to life imprisonment in Qatar after a “showcase trial.”

Whatever the full extent of their involvement in Saddam’s capture, the Kurds, and the PUK in particular, would benefit handsomely.

Apart from a trifling $25 million bounty, their status would have been substantially boosted in Washington, which may in part explain the recent vociferous Kurdish reassertion of their long-term political ambitions in the “new Iraq.” The New York Times is reporting today that the Bush administration has decided to let the Kurdish region remain semi-autonomous as part of a newly sovereign Iraq despite warnings from Iraq’s neighbors and many Iraqis not to divide the country into ethnic states.

This comes as US troops faced continuing resistance attacks against US forces, including the shooting down of a Delta Kiowa Warrior helicopter on Friday.

According to the Pentagon, 485 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the start of the invasion. 346 of them were killed since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1. The website Iraqbodycount.net estimates the number of Iraqi civilians killed between 7,900 and 9,700.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we will continue our conversation with Yanar Mohammad, Director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She spoke about the occupation and resistance in Iraq.

YANAR MOHAMMED: We have forwarded this political formula that sets the dividing lines between the people, between the working class set upon ethnicity, set upon religions and I would also say on gender. They have established the divisions between the Iraqis now and these divisions have had the results already showing, The beginnings of civil war between differing sects just because they are of different religions. In the time that 20 years back, nobody cared what your religion was, what my religion was, but during these — especially during the last decade after the isolation from the international community, and also Saddam had a role here, in the Islamicization of the society, in pushing these people back to these old thinking of, my ID was my religion. There was no more working class struggle. There was no more feminist struggle and all of the society is living in this vacuum where you were political Islam has done his attack on Iraq as well as many countries in the area, and, you know what? This attack on Iraq has established this reality that the Iraqi people are now being sandwiched between the state terrorism that we see coming from the U.S. administration, and the other side of terrorism, which is political Islam and their notorious groups.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean exactly by political Islam?

YANAR MOHAMMED: That is when religion is taken away from the personal aspect of life. It is pushed into the political arena. It is used as an ID for political struggles, and this started in the last two decades, after the — in the middle east and especially in the Arab world. There was a pan-Arab project. They were looking for a glorious Arab nation, and we were all driven to that. But when that failed with the invasion of Kuwait, and with what Saddam did and the failure of all projects for unity between other countries, they tried to look for another ID and Islam fit in very well. It was proving that it’s the anti-American pull that all of the world could look at. And what all of the world and especially some of the traditional left overlooked was that this political Islam had inhuman ways of handling politics, had inhuman ways of running their own societies, where women have to be marginalized, have to be oppressed, and this is what’s happening in Iraq now. Islam is political. It’s no more of a religion. It’s politics. And it’s making terrorist acts all over the world, and especially on the lives of women. This is the reality that even in North America, I find that most people don’t want to hear about.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Yanar Mohammad, and she is the founder of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, and also the editor-in-chief of a monthly newspaper called “the Iraqi Al-Mousawat Newspaper.” In Iraq, there are three women appointed to the 25-member governing council. One has already been assassinated. Who was she?

YANAR MOHAMMED: She was Akila Al-Hashini. She was a previous Ba’ath figure. She was a bureaucrat who served them very well, at old platforms. And many people say that she is an educated woman, if we can use her in this era, in this post-war times to forward the women’s issue, although she was not a woman’s activist, but the story about her is that we know that the governing council was threatened by Saddam’s loyalists and the other Islamic groups to be killed, but the sad story, and this shook us all, that the first one killed from the governing council was a women, which means that the women — it gives you the feeling that the women are the most vulnerable. She was killed cold-bloodedly and this shook us all and it caused some insecurity for all of the people in Iraq, regardless of what your political affiliation is. You have hopes for the future although they have put news the dark scenario, but we still try to do the political struggle to turn it into a bright future and all of that insecurity and all of these assassinations, these bombings, this is not giving us a chance to organize, and to get our troops in the right places.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is involved in the resistance right now in Iraq?

YANAR MOHAMMED: I would say that because it has the military capabilities, it’s mostly Ba’ath loyalists. But then again, that’s not the only ammunition for this resistance. The Islamics are giving it a very good part, a very good push and then again, there are the remains of the Arab nationalist groups coming from all over the Arab countries through the borders and joining forces. So, it’s an Islamic nationalist movement that are joining with the Saddam loyalist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, that’s interesting because the Ba’athists and the Islamic fundamentalists did not used to work together. Are they working together or just all of these forces are working against the occupation?

YANAR MOHAMMED: I would be exaggerating if I would say that they’re all one group. I would say they are many groups working on the ground, but there is sort of a collaboration between them. And I would wouldn’t say that Saddam was totally against the Islamists because in the last ten years, I left Iraq for ten year, and after I went back, I saw that he had totally flirted with the Islamists. There are some spots in Baghdad where he has built mosques that you cannot miss from ten kilometers. It’s there to prove itself to impose on all of the — I would say secular-based society, that Islam is there to rule. And for us, Islam has been a religion. Why does it need to impose itself as a political message. And Saddam did have — did give incredible air time to religious programs, and he did work on the Islamisation of society, part of which was the campaign of beheadings of women, if you have heard of it, the Faithfulness Campaign in the fall of the year 2000. He had his Fedayeen troops collaborating with what was called the Iraqi Union for Women. It was supposed to be an Iraqi woman’s group. They worked together. They looked for a list of honorless women, which were assumably prostitutes. Some of them were just political activists. They went to their houses, caught them, beheaded them, and hung them upside-down in front of their houses as an example of getting rid of the evil in the society. Just like another witch hunting that was done, you know, hundreds of years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you doing at this time?

YANAR MOHAMMED: I was in Canada working with my women’s group trying to create awareness to the whole world that this should not happen to us, and it should be fought against, and who are our enemies, and pointing the finger very clearly at them. And I was also telling about the future that we do not want to see, and I was an anti-war— one of the anti-war figures. I was very well known to be that. Although, many of the traditional left platforms did not want to have me around because I spoke against political Islam as the future that we don’t want to see in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think is the solution right now?

YANAR MOHAMMED: The solution is to provide a healthy atmosphere of — healthy political atmosphere for Iraqi people to organize for a minimum time of one year, and that means security and stability. And as long as the U.S. troops are in there, there is no security, no stability. As you know, the U.S. troops are the magnet for terrorists coming from all over the world to attack them. Why should we sacrifice our cities to turn into a battlefield, fierce battlefield. As long as the U.S. troops are there, we are not seeing any stability. We cannot organize. We cannot see a bright future for ourselves. The U.S. troops have to leave. You would ask me what would replace them, because it could mean a civil war. What we have said until now is a replacement by the United Nations peacekeeping group, peacekeeping force, because that is the only alternative, the only troops that are as big and they are not as involved in killing Iraqi people. I do not see any other alternative for the time being, but I definitely know that we need the security and the stability to be able to organize and it has to be arranged without the U.S. troops staying in there.

AMY GOODMAN: And your newspaper, the next edition, what will you focus on? on your newspaper that comes out once a month, and is called “Iraqi Al-Mousawat.” what does Al-Mousawat mean?

YANAR MOHAMMED: Al-Mousawat means equality. This is one of our demands, asking for full equality between women and men. We make it clear that it will not come without a secular constitution. We focus on the secular constitution not to be based upon Islamic charria where civil law will equal one woman to one fourth of a man in marriage, and one-half of a man in courts of law, and even economically, less than half a man, but what my newspaper is focusing on is the political future that will serve women in Iraq, and we do push women to the political arena. We make them aware where their rights can be achieved. And unfortunately, because I do that, I’m being sued now by the Islamists. Because I speak against compulsory veils— In the west, veils can be a choice, but in Iraq and in those countries, the veil is never chosen. It is compulsory, and now they are making it — putting it by force under gunpoint at us.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you compare post-invasion Iraq and post-war Afghanistan when it comes to women?

YANAR MOHAMMED: When — if I speak about the women’s issue only, for women, there was some change over there, although people coming from there, they say no, the women are still afraid to go out without the burqa to the streets. But in Iraq, it was the other way around. We were able, like the constitution and the authorities did not force us into the veil. There was some social pressure, and some brainwash towards being religious, but the constitution was sort of secular. I wouldn’t say fully secular. The change for us is that this war has unleashed the freedoms for political Islam to oppress the women, and to keep us under control, and I think 60% of the population, which are the women now, will not have a safe for the future of Iraq and the two women left in the governing council are under veil which gives a message to all women in Iraq, this is the submissive role that we expect for you in this coming era.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammad, one of the founding members of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

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