London -- Wednesday July 5 2006
Our streets are prison corridors and our homes cells as the occupiers go about their strategic humiliation and intimidation.
A'beer Qassim al-Janaby, a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, was with her family in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, when US troops raided the house. A group of soldiers have been charged with her rape and the murder of her father, mother, and nine-year-old sister. They are also accused of setting A'beer's body on fire.
The al-Janaby family lived near a US checkpoint, and the killings happened at 2pm on March 11. As usual, a US spokesman ascribed the killings to "Sunni Arab insurgents active in the area", contrary to local eyewitnesses.
A'beer's rape and murder is neither incidental nor the product of a US soldier's "personality disorder": it is part of a pattern that includes Abu Ghraib, as well as the Haditha, Ishaqi and Qaiem massacres. And we see this pattern as serving a strategic function beyond indiscriminate revenge: to couple collective humiliation with intimidation and terror.
Today, four years into the Anglo-American occupation, the whole of Iraq has become Abu Ghraib, with our streets as prison corridors and homes as cells. Iraqis are attacked in detention, on the streets and in their homes.
It took almost a year, and published photographs of horrific torture in Abu Ghraib, before the world began to heed the voices of the detainees and those trying to defend them. The same is happening to women victims.
Abuses, torture and the rape of Iraqi women have been reported for three years now by independent Iraqi organisations. But the racist logic of occupation means that occupied people are not to be trusted, and truth is the private ownership of the occupiers.
Families of the abused, raped, and killed Iraqi civilians have to wait for months, if not years, until a US soldier comes forward to admit responsibility and the US military begins an investigation. (For the US military to investigate a US soldier's crime has been seen by Iraqis as the killers investigating their own technical skills.)
On the October 19 2005, Freedom Voice, an Iraqi Human Rights society, reported the rape of three women from the "Saad Bin Abi Waqqas neighbourhood" in Tell Afar after a US raid.
The alleged rape took place by soldiers inside the women's own house after the arrest of their male relatives. Medical sources in the town said one of the women died. A US commander ordered some soldiers detained, and no more was heard of this.
Immunity from prosecution under Iraqi or international law is the main fact of the occupation and renders laughable any claims of sovereignty. It is based on UN security council resolution 1546 and the accompanying exchange of letters between Iraqi and American authorities. This immunity applies equally to the marine units accused of roaming our streets high on drugs and to advisers running ministries, to prison guards, security guards, multinational forces and corporate contractors of all kinds.
The Iraqi women's ordeal began the moment occupation forces descended upon them. Most arrests and raids take place after midnight. In some neighborhoods, women now sleep fully dressed so as not to be caught in their nightgowns. Armoured cars and helicopters are sometimes deployed in raids, in a variant on "shock and awe". Troops force women and children to watch as they deliberately humiliate their husbands, sons or fathers, and sometimes order them to take pictures with US soldiers' cameras. Money and jewellery are taken. Are these "terrorist assets confiscated" or spoils of war?
Random arrests, rapes and killings by the occupation forces continue under the so-called "national unity government", which renewed their mandate and immunity while at the same time talking of a "national reconciliation initiative".
Despite all the rhetoric, a female minister for human rights and dozens of US-funded Iraqi women's organisations, the only outcry we have heard condemning the rape of A' beer and the plight of Iraqi women under occupation is from the anti-occupation Islamist movement.
Occupation authorities and their puppet regime share the denial of violence against women. After the sexual abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, the authorities talked about respecting local traditions, and the need to avoid provoking anger and give the Iraqi people the sense that the occupation recognises the sensitive status of women.
On occasion, Iraqi collaborators joined in. On April 18 2004, the ministry of interior chief, Ahmed Youssef, issued a statement denying maltreatment of female detainees. He said: "We are Muslims. We know very well how to treat our female detainees." As if violence against women were not a universal crime.
The abuses continue also in the puppet regime's prisons. On October 20 2005, officials of the Kazemiya women's prison reported an instance of rape. The UN was refused permission to investigate. According to a report of the UN assistance mission to Iraq, Iraqi police tortured a woman who had been detained in Diwaniya police station since March 2005. The victim recounted that electric shocks were applied to her heels. She was reportedly told her teenage daughter would be raped if she did not supply the information her interrogators wanted.
A report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights on October 29 2005 found that women held in interior ministry detention centres are subject to numerous human rights violations, including "systematic rape by the investigators and ... other forms of bodily harm in order to coerce them into making confessions". The report added that prisons fail to meet even the most basic standards of hygiene, and that the women were deprived of facilities as fundamental as toilets. The ministry of justice has confirmed the accuracy of the report.
The wall of denial is cracking. On June 12, al-Jazeera showed footage of Mohammed al-Diaeny, a member of parliament, going to a prison in Baquba, near Baghdad, where men showed evidence of torture and talked of being raped. Seven women detainees were shown but refused to talk. "Too ashamed", whispered one of them. In response, Jawad al-Bolani, minister of the interior, promised investigation. He later vowed to release all women prisoners and negotiate with the multinational forces to release theirs.
There will be no end to these violations as long as Iraq remains occupied by forces that enjoy immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law and as long as the occupation authorities continue to treat Iraqi citizens with racist contempt in order to feel better about plundering the nation's wealth and depriving its people of their most fundamental rights under international law and human rights conventions.
The Iraqi puppet regime's promises and US investigations of the "personality disorders" of their soldiers and the "few bad apples" are irrelevant for Iraqis: for them, the Anglo-American occupation means destruction, rape and pillage.