A Baghdad-based NGO called the Woman Freedom Organisation (WFO) has warned that incidents of violence against women have increased in frequency since the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of the country.
"We’ve studied reports from local NGOs on women's rights in the past three years, including violence, kidnappings, forced prostitution and honour killings,” said WFO President Senar Muhammad. “And the extent to which women have lost their rights in Iraq is shocking."
According to the study, released on 9 March, the most worrying trend was the large number of kidnappings of women, many of whom reported being sexually abused or tortured. While such occurrences were largely unknown during the Saddam Hussein regime, more than 2,000 women have been kidnapped in Iraq since April 2003, the report noted.
"Money has become more important than lives, and kidnapping women – easy targets because of their weakness – is a quicker way to get a good ransom," said Muhammad.
The report also noted that many Iraqi Women were also being sold as sex workers abroad, mainly to the illicit markets of Yemen, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf States. Victims usually discover their fate only after they have been lured outside the country by false promises.
"They told my family that I was very beautiful and they were sure I could be a famous model outside Iraq,” said Samira (not her real name), who was deceived by traffickers into going to Kuwait. “Because my brothers and father died in 2003, and we needed money desperately, my mother agreed that I should go.”
“But I discovered that everything was a lie, and I was forced to have sexual relations with men," Samira recounted painfully. "I lost my virginity to a 65-year-old man who bought me at a very high price and who slept with me everyday until I ran away and arranged my return to Iraq."
The WFO report also pointed out the large number of female inmates currently held in prisons controlled by occupying powers the US and the UK, mentioning the Al-Kadhimiya and Abu-Ghraib prisons in particular. "Based on our records and from anonymous information, we estimate that there are more than 250 women in these two prisons alone,” said Muhammad, “who are exposed to different kinds of torture, including sexual abuses.”
The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, denied that female prisoners were regularly subject to mistreatment, but added that information on female detainees was confidential. "We’re Muslims, and we know very well how to treat our women prisoners," said senior ministry official Ahmed Youssifin.
Former female inmates reject these claims, however, citing numerous abuses. "I was kidnapped and sexually abused,” insisted Surra Abdu, who spent two months in al-Kadhimiya prison. “But after I was released and reported the matter to the police, they interrogated me and hurt me more, saying I was in cahoots with my jailers.” Abdu added: “Is that the freedom and security offered to us when Saddam was toppled?"
According to the WFO’s Muhammad, government claims that female inmates are not mistreated is belied by abundant physical evidence to the contrary. "It’s very difficult to believe women are being well-treated in Iraqi prisons,” he said. “Many times have I seen signs of torture and beatings on their faces after they were released."