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Feminists Yanar Mohammed of Iraq and Dr. Sima Samar of Afghanistan on the Dire Situation for Women Under U.S. Occupation and Rising Fundamentalism

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Two leading feminists, one from Iraq and one from Afghanistan, join us to talk about the dire situation for women in their countries. Yanar Mohammed is the co-founder of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq. The group vocally supports women’s rights in Iraq and shelters Iraqi women targeted in honor killings and sectarian violence. Dr. Sima Samar is the chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and is the United Nations special envoy to Darfur, Sudan. She served as deputy prime minister and minister for women’s affairs in Hamid Karzai’s first government following the U.S. invasion of 2001. She was forced to resign her government post following death threats. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at the dire situation for women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this month, the Daily Mail of London published the following dispatch from Iraq: “A 17-year-old girl has been stoned to death in Iraq because her boyfriend was from a different religious faith. Du’a Khalil Aswad, from a minority Kurdish religious group, Yezidi, was condemned to an 'honour killing' by men in her family and hardliners due to her relationship with a Sunni Muslim. She had taken shelter in the house of a Yezidi tribal leader in Bashika, near the northern capital, Mosul. Eight or nine men stormed the house and dragged Miss Aswad into the street where they hurled stones at her for half an hour. Reports said a local security force saw the attack, but did not try to stop it. Now her boyfriend is in hiding.”

Human rights groups say this honor killing is just the latest news to emerge from Iraq that shows how the condition of women in Iraq has rapidly deteriorated since the U.S. occupation began. Some have described it as the Talibanization of Iraq.

Today, we’re joined in Los Angeles by two leading feminists—one from Iraq, one from Afghanistan. Yanar Mohammed is the co-founder of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq. The group vocally supports women’s rights in Iraq and shelters Iraqi women targeted in honor killings and sectarian violence. She was born in Baghdad in 1960. She left Iraq in 1993, then returned after the U.S. invasion. Dr. Sima Samar also joins us in Los Angeles. She is the chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and is the United Nations special envoy to Darfur, Sudan. She served as deputy prime minister and minister for women’s affairs in Hamid Karzai’s first government, following the U.S. invasion of 2001. She was forced to resign her government post following death threats. Both Yanar Mohammed and Dr. Sima Samar are featured in the new issue of Ms. Magazine. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

I want to begin with Dr. Sima Samar. First off, you had trouble getting into the United States this weekend?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Good morning. First of all, I think the problem was not really — they didn’t try to stop me, but the whole procedure of providing visa was so long, and it took three weeks. So I think it was a bureaucratic situation, not really trying to stop me not to travel to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the situation in Afghanistan today?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yes, I do. Do you want me to describe what is the situation today?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Yes, please describe.

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Well, unfortunately, after five years of the fall of the Taliban government, we have not achieved much on human rights on the ground. One of the reasons is that I believe that we cannot bring democracy and human rights through military activities only. So we need a comprehensive program for bringing democracy or promoting democracy in countries like Afghanistan or in Iraq or in another countries. So what has been done so far in Afghanistan, yes, we did achieve something — or a lot. At least we had election, we had constitution. But the reality is that we keep losing the ground to the Taliban and Talibanization in the country since last year.

We have active war in some of the areas, and the women’s rights situation or the women’s situation in the country has not been changed much, because, yes, we do have equal right in the constitution, but the reality is the constitution is not getting implemented or real for the women in different part of the country. The women’s situation in more big cities has been changed — they have access to education, they have access to work — but not in the rural areas. They still face the same problem as they were facing during Taliban. There is a lot of restriction on women’s right. There is a lot of violence against women. And there’s some honor killing in Afghanistan also.

AMY GOODMAN: The latest news out of Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah, a senior lieutenant of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, killed yesterday in the southern province of Helmand — how significant is this, and what was the response there, Dr. Samar?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Well, I think it was a positive achievement, because Mullah Dadullah was one of the hardliner of Taliban commander in the country. But I think killing of one person of the Taliban is not going to change a lot in the country, because the people wants to see changes on their life. Why the people are supportive of Taliban? Why they are getting civilian support? I mean, they are accommodated by the local people, because they have not seen any changes on their life. After the presidential election and after the parliamentary election, they don’t see practically a lot of improvement of their daily life. There’s lack of job opportunity. There’s lack of access to healthcare, access to education. All these basic social services are not provided to them.

So, yes, a person who was very hardline Taliban, and he was the biggest commander of Taliban in the country, but I don’t think that will change a lot the situation in the country. So we have to do a lot of work, a comprehensive plan for Afghanistan, not only on military activities. It should be a lot of development work, and it should be — we should do a lot on accountability and justice and also good governance in the country, in order to build the confidence between the government and the public.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Yanar Mohammed, the situation for women in Iraq right now?

YANAR MOHAMMED: Well, you just said it. Honor killing is becoming something to celebrate in Iraq now, and this did not happen before the last years that we experienced in the post-war Iraq. When a young woman is killed — actually, it was more than eight to nine males around her. It was hundreds of males standing around. None of them helped, but they were very keen on photographing the scene, on videotaping it on their cellphones, on their mobile phones. And on top of that, the part, the information that’s missing in the report is that some of our codes, the penal codes, which is part of our laws, they support the killing of women if they are “dishonorable.”

So what happened in this new Iraq, the so-called liberation of Iraq has turned women into refugees inside their country. Millions of us are vulnerable to be killed, and all our lives are threatened, and there is nobody to secure our lives for us. The policemen were standing and watching, and actually they helped to get the young girl back to the place where she was killed. So by constitution, we have lost our rights. Honor killings are on the rise. Kidnappings of women are getting more now. Our organization’s work proves that human trafficking is still rising, and not much is being done about it.

And when you look at the situation, it’s as if the country was occupied and later on handed down to the extremists who were responsible of the 9/11. Why are all the TV outlets given to Islamists? Where are the democrats? Why aren’t they being supported? Where are the seculars? Why are the women’s groups not being supported? And we are one example of those. It is as if it was a plan to make us weaker — the women, the freedom-loving people of Iraq — and to support the extremists, to give them, to hand the government over to them.

And today, I hear in the reports that the U.S. media is very happy that the resistance are having multiplications, and they’re not working together anymore. Like what could be more miserable than this? And a country is occupied. And if there wasn’t a well-planned set in place to bring a better situation, are they waiting for the resistance to fall apart? It is such a catastrophe, what was happened in Iraq.

And still, the alternative is there. The freedom-loving people of Iraq, some of the groups, the women’s groups, the labor groups, the youth groups, have never been supported. They are not represented in the Parliament. It is there to be supported, and yet we see all the support going to the misogynist groups, to those who are into — who have inhumane agenda. And this was the occupation of Iraq. This is what it’s about: the Talibanization of Iraq. This is what we have we have witnessed.

And the crime of killing the young girl Du’a in the Kurdish part of Iraq, it’s just one example of how all Iraqi women are kept under threat. And this is just an example of how all Iraqis now are prisoners inside our own country. You even cannot leave this prison to go to countries like Jordan and other places, because they don’t let you go through the border. So it’s a big dilemma, and there are no answers.

So the answer to that, from our side, the suggestion is that the U.S. troops should leave immediately, because we, the people of Iraq, do not agree that all the jihadists from around the world are coming to Iraq to fight this so-called U.S. evil, and our cities are turning into an arena of fight, and all our lives are being devastated. The U.S. troops need to leave immediately, with no conditions. And we do not accept the debate that there will be a bloodbath afterwards, because nothing is worse than the sectarian war that we are living right now, and that is also a consequence of this war. So honor killings, women have lost their rights, sectarian war, insecurity and even unable to leave our country to go to a safe place, all of these are happening, and the only answer to that is that the U.S. troops have to leave right away. No conditions to be set here.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammed, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to continue our discussion with you, as well as Dr. Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, when we come back from break.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Yanar Mohammed, founder and president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, and Dr. Sima Samar, chair of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Darfur, Sudan, and I want to talk about that in a few minutes. But, Dr. Samar, as you hear Yanar Mohammed describe the situation in Iraq for women, how does that compare to Afghanistan?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: I think the problem is almost similar to Afghanistan in Iraq. I think that one of the problems was Afghanistan was not a success story, so they try to apply everything that they have done in Afghanistan to Iraq. And I think that the connection between the two countries as a region and also as a Muslim country is very close, because we have learned — our people have been learning the suicide attacks and car bombs and remote-control bombs from Iraqis, actually. So the situation is not much different.

But we have a different situation by having the coalition force and also ISAF troops in the country. The coalition forces are mainly the American forces with the British, but the ISAF troop is all the NATO countries. So there’s, unfortunately, a lack of coordination between the troops, either if it’s American special forces and the NATO forces and different countries.

So they try to apply the same policy as they had in Afghanistan to Iraq. And that scene, it’s different, because we had Taliban in the country, and there was a kind of legitimacy for invasion in Afghanistan, which is a different situation in Iraq. Of course, the violence in Iraq is much, much more and stronger than it is in Afghanistan. But, I mean, the violence and the fighting and insurgency in Afghanistan is also getting more powerful, because at least in six or seven of the western and southwest provinces are all very active, and the government keeps losing the — to control some of the districts in the country.

So I think what is happening, that they have to — the international community have to look at the situation in Afghanistan and do assessment of their work in the last five years and find the weak points and do not repeat the same mistake as they did in the early ’80s and ’90s in Afghanistan.

I completely agree with Yanar, because we — we have same problem in Afghanistan. There is not much support for the progressive groups in the country. It’s always tried to be supported —- the fundamentalist or the powerful jihadi groups has to be supported by, unfortunately, by the international community including the U.S. So we have to think about that, and we have to see which group can be -—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that forward. Explain that more, Dr. Sima Samar.

DR. SIMA SAMAR: — in a position to promote democracy in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Sima Samar, explain that further, especially the U.S. role here. What jihadi groups do you see the U.S. shoring up? And what pro-democracy groups do you think should be shored up that are being sidelined?

DR. SIMA SAMAR: I think that the jihadi groups — some of the commanders and jihadi leaders has been supported by the U.S. troops when they invaded the country in order to fight against the Taliban. That’s the first step. And secondly, they have been given money and support by the U.S. troops in the country to be — to keep their position. And the third problem, they never speak about accountability and justice in the country and human rights, respect for human rights.

This is very, very important. We cannot speak of democracy and progress in a country without respecting human rights and human dignity in a country and especially the equality between women and men. I don’t think — I believe that women’s right is human right, and everybody believes on that. But this is, in a way, put aside, and they are not trying to promote that very much, because they try to say that we respect their tradition and culture and religion in the country. But we do not have to respect the tradition, which oppressed the women, which violate the human rights in the country. And it’s going on in the country. And some progressive groups, educated ones, are not really being supported.

We have the example of the impeachment of the minister of foreign affairs in the country, which was not — I mean, the refugees were deported from Iran and the Parliament asked him to answer. It’s not his job. He cannot resist against another country who has more power. And there’s a different political reason for that to be — those refugees to be deported. One of the reasons is that the problem between Iran and U.S. And they want to put a lot of pressure on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. So he has been impeached, and he has been used or tried to be kicked out of the Cabinet. This is — I mean, the international community, especially U.S., has to have strong stand on that, because he is not a warlord. He does not belong to the different — the extremist political parties in the country. And he has not been supported. So this is the sign. And the Parliament brought him and questioned him on the issues that is not related to his job.

So having Parliament and having the early election in the country giving chance to some of the warlords and war criminals to come and join to be part of the Parliament is not helping democracy, is not — the Parliament in Afghanistan is not in an institution to promote democracy in the country. So we should not apply the same policy, unfortunately, in Iraq, and they almost did that.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you compare the situation — or do you at all — the situation in Afghanistan, where you’re chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, with the situation in Sudan for women? You’re the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, particularly Darfur.

DR. SIMA SAMAR: Yeah. I think there are similarities between Afghanistan and Sudan, because we have almost — one similarity that I face, and I see it, is lack of accountability and justice. And it’s the same in Afghanistan and the same in Iraq. There are crimes committed by different people in the country, and none of them has been brought to justice, and none of them has been brought to — the culture of impunity continues in both countries, and none of them has been stopped, actually. The culture of impunity has continued in both of the countries. On the women’s rights issue, of course, it’s a traditional society. [coughs] Excuse me. It is a traditional society, both Afghanistan and Sudan. [coughs] I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, that’s OK. I hope you can get water. Go ahead.

DR. SIMA SAMAR: And I think the women has been used as a — unfortunately, as — especially the sexual violence, as a tool of war in Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to go to Yanar Mohammed, so you can catch your breath. I would give you some water if I was in the studio with you, but Dr. Sima Samar and Yanar Mohammed are in a studio in Los Angeles. I’m here in New York City. Yanar Mohammed, when we left off at break, you said the U.S. soldiers have to get out now. So paint a picture for us, if you will. What would happen in Iraq then, if the U.S. troops were to leave today?

YANAR MOHAMMED: Well, I’m not saying it’s going to be paradise right away, but the idea is that we are having all these jihadis coming to Iraq, because there is this magnet, which is the U.S. troops in there. For them, that is the biggest evil that they are coming to fight. And if these troops leave the country and all of them leave the country, there isn’t much reason to come to Iraq anymore. If you tell me there are already Islamists in power and in the government and in the resistance and there will be fights among them, I tell you, yes, there will be fights among them.

But then again, those who are in power are not really. They don’t have the popular base that they used to have in the first two years. You go to their own areas like Sadr City and the other Shiite parts of Baghdad, you find out that the young people are looking for the seculars, for the progressive groups to join. And then again, you look at the so-called resistance. The Islamic party of Iraq, they do not have very strong — now they have strong grounds, because they are fighting against the Americans. But if the U.S. troops leave — and we all know that the resistance is a sum-up of the old Baaths and some Arab nationalists and al-Qaeda — so if the U.S. troops leave, even that part of the — I mean, the resistance will lose its popular base, and there will be all sorts of multiplications in there.

And you know what, Amy, the difference, the only difference between Iraq and Afghanistan, although we spoke much of the similarities, is that in Iraq you had a society, you had all the infrastructure working, you had — it was all functioning. And the people had not lived decades in a war-torn situation. So there is a bit number of democrats, of progressives, a civil society that could be put together, and it could be mended.

But we really need to push on the issue of the U.S. troops leaving right away. There will be some chaos for some time, but because the extremists do not have the strong support from the people that they should have — most of the support came from either surrounding countries or the big powers in the world. The U.S. administration prefers to see moderate, so-called moderate, Islamists in power, and what’s moderate about somebody who looks at women as less than men, about somebody who thinks that people belonging to other sects of Islam are less of human beings, and about somebody who has no accountability? I think it’s not news today when we speak that all the kidnappings in Iraq, most of them at least, are happening by police cars. Many of the public executions against women are happening by — are being administered by the militias who are affiliates of power. So there is no accountability. There is no respect for human rights. And yet, they are governing us.

The U.S. troops should leave, and they should not impose any political agenda on Iraq, and the support should not be given to the extremists. The people of Iraq are still an integrated society. The youth do not want to see the extremists in power. We will have the dynamics that will make it work, be it by election, be it by the grassroots, who will be bring about the democratic sense into the country. It should work, but —

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar, we —

YANAR MOHAMMED: — all the solutions that are being brought by the U.S. administration, be it a security plan, it didn’t work. It’s a total failure.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanar Mohammed, we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us, Yanar Mohammed, founder and president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, and Dr. Sima Samar, chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, both in Los Angeles, both just recently came into the United States.

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