Anna Badkhen / San Francisco Chronicle & Yifat Susskind / TomPaine.com – 2007-02-24 10:22:50
New Set of Rape Allegations Leveled against Iraqi Forces
Second Such Accusation This Week Hurts US Effort to Transfer Security to Domestic Troops
Anna Badkhen / San Francisco Chronicle
(February 23, 2007) — Still reeling from allegations that Iraqi police officers raped a young Sunni woman in Baghdad, Iraq on Thursday confronted a second set of sexual-assault charges leveled against its security forces: that four soldiers raped a 50-year-old Sunni woman and attempted to rape her two daughters in the northern city of Tal Afar.
In Iraq’s conservative society, where rape is considered a particularly heinous crime, two such allegations in a week are likely to deepen sectarian chasms, tarnish the already tattered image of Iraqi military and police forces, and further call into question their ability to provide security in Iraq — a fundamental condition for a US troop withdrawal, some experts warn.
The accusations of rape are bound to deal another blow to the Iraqis’ eroding trust in the country’s security forces, said Rochdi Younsi, an expert on Iraq at the Eurasia Group, a consulting agency based in New York.
“It does not matter whether you’re wearing the Iraqi uniform or not, the popular belief in Iraq is that each soldier has sectarian loyalties that come first, before his loyalty to Iraq,” said Younsi. “If these allegations turn out to be true, clearly the credibility of Iraqi forces will be undermined even further.”
“These kinds of incidents, whether they’re true or not, it’s irrelevant,” said Joost Hiltermann, an expert on Iraq for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that promotes conflict resolution. “The chasm is so deep between sectarian communities that … any incident of this sort will simply aggravate it.”
US military commanders in Iraq have acknowledged that the rape allegations undermine their efforts to subdue sectarian violence and protect Iraqi civilians.
“The key element of a counterinsurgency effort here is we have to reach out and protect the people,” Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief US military spokesman in Baghdad, said at a press conference Wednesday. “And the fact that this has occurred gives everybody grave concern.”
Caldwell asked Iraqis not to allow the allegations to tarnish their views of the entire security forces. “Because there’s two or three that are alleged to have done something wrong should not be taken and made as an allegation against the entire force,” he said. “There are brave Iraqi soldiers out there each day, both Iraqi army soldiers and Iraqi police soldiers, who are doing their mission.”
Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Nijm Abdullah said Thursday that an army lieutenant and three enlisted men had confessed to the rape of a 50-year-old Sunni Turkoman woman and the attempted rape of her two daughters during a search of the family’s house for weapons and insurgents Feb. 8. The lieutenant filmed the alleged attack on a cell-phone video camera, but did not take part in the rape, according to Sheikh Mohammed Khalil Hanash al-Hawyat, a Tal Afar tribal leader who had spoken to the woman.
A fifth soldier, who had been standing guard outside, burst into the house and forced the others at gunpoint to stop the assault, said Abdullah, who in effect serves as mayor of Tal Afar, a city of 150,000 people about 260 miles north of Baghdad.
Abdullah said the men were awaiting trial in an Iraqi civilian court on rape charges. It was unclear whether the soldiers were Sunni or Shiite, only that they had come from Iraq’s largely Shiite south.
The report comes on the heels of accusations that three Iraqi police officers in Baghdad had raped a young Sunni woman during her detention at a police garrison. The allegations, first reported by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television network Monday, created a political maelstrom in Iraq.
After an investigation that lasted one day, Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the accusations false, cleared the alleged assailants, accused Sunni activists of fabricating the accusations to undermine support for Iraqi security forces, and fired a top Sunni official for criticizing the government’s handling of the investigation.
Although Iraqis often whisper about rape as a weapon of war, until this week there had been no known official sexual assault accusations against Iraqi security forces, said Anthony Dworkin, director of the Crimes of War project, which works to raise public awareness of the laws of war. Muslim rape victims rarely speak out for the fear of being ostracized or killed by their relatives. This makes it difficult to establish whether these allegations are examples of a widespread problem, Dworkin said.
“Obviously there are many conflicts in which rape is used as a weapon for terrorizing civilians: That’s the case in Darfur, that was the case in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda,” he said. “I can’t tell whether what is happening in Iraq fits into that pattern. If these crimes are carried on in the framework of civil war, they are crimes of war.”
The interview with the alleged victim of the Tal Afar rape allowed a glimpse at how little Iraqis trust security forces to protect them. Asked why she did not report the attack immediately, the woman replied: “To whom?”
Women are particularly vulnerable to assaults by Iraqi forces because they often are alone when their houses are searched, Hiltermann said.
However shocking, the allegations are not “all that much worse than what we’ve already been seeing for a year in terms of intersectarian killings and related violence,” said Michael O’Hanlon, an expert on Iraq at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The allegations of rape also cast doubts on the prospect of a speedy US withdrawal, which President Bush says largely hinges on the Iraqis’ ability to provide their own security. Reports of sexual assaults, added to the other charges of sectarian abuses, suggest that Iraqi forces are not ready to patrol their own country.
“It’s not a very sound idea to hand over security tasks and sovereignty to forces that are very poorly organized, very poorly trained and are being held together artificially by the glue American officers provide by their presence in these units,” said Hiltermann, who spoke from Sulaymaniya, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq. “You cannot abandon them at this stage, because for sure the moment you withdraw, these units will disintegrate, and the atrocities will multiply.”
Chronicle news services contributed to this report.
Iraqi Police Who Committed Rape
Armed, Trained, and Funded by the US
Yifat Susskind / TomPaine.com
(February 23, 2007) — The international news media is flooded with images of a woman in a pink headscarf recounting a shattering experience of rape by members of the Iraqi National Police. Most of the coverage has focused on her taboo-breaking decision to speak publicly about the assault, but has ignored the context for understanding — and combating — sexual violence by Iraqi security forces.
As Iraqi women’s organizations have documented, sexualized torture is a routine horror in Iraqi jails. While this woman may be the first Iraqi rape survivor to appear on television, she is hardly the first to accuse the Iraqi National Police of sexual assault.
At least nine Iraqi organizations (including Women’s Will, Occupation Watch, the Women’s Rights Association, the Iraqi League, the Iraqi National Association of Human Rights, the Human Rights’ Voice of Freedom, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Media and Culture Organization) as well as Amnesty International, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, and the Brussels Tribunal have documented the sexualized torture of Iraqi women while in police custody.
And as this case attests, sexual violence is woven into the fabric of the civil war now raging across Iraq. According to Iraqi human rights advocate and writer Haifa Zangana, the first question asked of female detainees in Iraq is, “Are you Sunni or Shi’ite?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”
Next week, MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, will release a report that documents the widespread use of rape and other forms of torture against women detainees in Iraq by US and Iraqi forces.
The report includes testimonies of numerous rape survivors, collected by the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Since November 2005, OWFI has conducted a Women’s Prison Watch project and has found that, “Torture and rape are common procedure of investigation in police stations run by the militias affiliated with the government, mostly the Mahdi and Badr militias,” according to their summer 2006 report.
These are the same sectarian Shi’ite militias that are prosecuting Iraq’s civil war, the same militias that stepped into the power vacuum created by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the same militias that have been systematically attacking women in their bid to establish an Islamist theocracy.
Since 2003, the political leadership of these militias has been handed control of the Iraqi state by the US, while the militants themselves have waged a campaign of assassinations, rapes, abductions, beheadings, acid attacks, and public beatings targeting women — particularly women who pose a challenge to the project of turning Iraq into a theocracy.
As the occupying power in Iraq, the US was obligated under the Hague and Geneva Conventions to provide security to Iraqi civilians, including protection from gender-based violence. But the US military, preoccupied with battling the Iraqi insurgency, simply ignored the reign of terror that Islamist militias have imposed on women.
By early 2005, as the “cakewalk” envisioned by US war planners devolved into the quagmire that has become the Iraq War, the US began to cultivate Shi’ite militias to help battle the Sunni-led insurgency. According to Newsweek, the plan was dubbed the “Salvador Option,” recalling the Reagan Administration’s use of militias to bolster right-wing regimes in 1980s Central America.
But by late 2005, once the Iraqi militias had become notorious as thugs and sectarian death squads, we stopped hearing so much about the military training that these groups had received under the command of Colonel James Steele during John Negroponte’s stint as US Ambassador to Iraq.
Neither have we heard about how the US allowed the government it installed in Baghdad to hand control of the country’s security forces to the militias. Today, the Mahdi Army controls the police forces of Baghdad and Basra , Iraq’s two largest cities.
The Badr Brigade is headquartered in Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, which directs the country’s national police, intelligence, and paramilitary units. And the United Nations special investigator on torture is reporting that torture in Iraq is worse now than under Saddam Hussein.
It’s no surprise that we’re hearing allegations of rape against the Iraqi National Police, considering who trained them. DynCorp, the private contractor that the Bush Administration hired to prepare Iraq’s new police force for duty, has an ugly record of violence against women. The company was contracted by the federal government in the 1990s to train police in the Balkans.
DynCorp employees were found to have systematically committed sex crimes against women, including “owning” young women as slaves. One DynCorp site supervisor videotaped himself raping two women. Despite strong evidence against them, the contractors never faced criminal charges and are back on the federal payroll.
Contrary to its rhetoric and its international legal obligations, the Bush Administration has refused to protect women’s rights in Iraq. In fact, it has decisively traded women’s rights for cooperation from the Islamists it has helped boost to power. Torture of women by police recruits armed, trained, and funded with US tax dollars is one symptom of this broader crisis.
Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-based Violence and the US War in Iraq will be available at www.MADRE.org after March 6, 2007. For more information about the report, please contact MADRE at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.627.0444.
A version of this article was previously published by TomPaine.com.