World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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Iraqi women’s positions in relation to the US counterinsurgency policy (150) - Panel
 

· Date: TUE 20, 5.00-7.00pm

· Institution: International Association for Contemporary Iraqi Studies, IACIS (United Kingdom)

· Organizer: Haifa Zangana

· Sponsored by: International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies (IACIS)

· Language: English

· Description: The Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 has fundamentally altered the basis of Iraqi society and politics, thrusting upon the country a dynamic of extreme violence, social instability, politicized sectarianism, and terror. As is common of war, the worst afflicted and most vulnerable have been the women and children. The collapse of Iraq’s social structures and the imposition of mass social violence have left Iraqi women with limited means of support and have, in many cases, destroyed the foundations of Iraqi family life.
This panel examines the status of Iraqi women in the context of military occupation from a variety of perspectives. The consistent theme in the papers is the instability that has been hoisted upon an already vulnerable and beleaguered population and an interrogation of the lofty promises of ‘liberation’ when weighed against the reality of Iraqi life. Finally, these examinations of the status of Iraqi woman suggest generational consequences for the Iraqi family, where woman represented the linchpin, predicting a generation traumatized by war and occupation.

Chair: Haifa Zangana (International Association for Contemporary Iraqi Studies, IACIS)

Paper presenter: Haifa Zangana (International Association for Contemporary Iraqi Studies, IACIS), “US Military Counterinsurgency Policy and the Empowerment of Iraqi Women”
In 2005 the writing U.S. military counterinsurgency field manual was supervised by General Petraeus, the Commander in Chief in Iraq, and General Amos of U.S. Marine Corps. It was “designed to fill a doctrinal gap” and provide guidelines for counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. A striking feature of the manual was its guideline on women. Under the heading “engage the women”, it states that women are hugely influential in forming the social network that insurgents use for support, and that “co-opting women through targeted social and economic programs builds networks of enlightened self-interest that eventually undermine insurgents.” Its recommendations continue with "If you don't bring them in, you're not going to win," and “We want to empower the women to the point where they can have a positive influence on the men, when they’re alone, in the home…” Some “women empowerment programmes” are linked or supervised directly by the US military, some others by NGOs working in concert with the military.
This paper examines how this policy was implemented by the US military and some NGOs by proxy. I will argue that the militarization of women’s issues indicate not the success of US counterinsurgency policy but rather its failure. Furthermore, I argue that the segregation policy in this initiatives, such as in providing buildings within occupation compounds, “where these women can meet safely” , in fact endanger women’s lives and safety. Such women are now seen as collaborators or tools used to divide the nation in par with the religious, sectarian and ethnic divide fomented by the occupation. I will also argue that the policy risks denying women the patriotic feelings fully shared with their men folk.
The paper looks further into the potential significance of this belated recognition of the role of Iraqi women, achieved largely through the US military employing anthropologists and social scientists to understand the “host nation’s culture” for specific immediate purposes. Since such insights are occurring within military thinking, a key source of western consciousness, do they represent a corrective turn from the dominant Orientalist view of Muslim women as passive and oppressed? Do they even have the potential for resolving the stand-off between, on the one hand, the universality of women’s rights espoused, for many decades, by international women movements and the UN, and the particularities of hitherto badly understood organically developing patriarchal societies with their values, on the other?

Paper presenter: Nofa Khadduri (School of Oriental and African Studies), “The Role of Women as Resistance Fighters”
The categorization of armed resistance in Iraq as terrorism trivializes a nationalist struggle by peoples under occupation. I will first aim to justify the legitimacy of armed resistance as a form of insurgency with nationalist orientations. In this pursuit, my paper aims to highlight the role of women in armed resistance. While women are participatory agents in both passive and active resistance, it is also important to acknowledge their role as agents of violence in the face of extricating circumstances. The war story about ‘women’s liberation’ deflects attention away from the violence that women suffer as a result of occupation. It justifies violence in the name of women and belittles the active resistance of women against the war whether through the carrying of arms or daily struggle to survive. This paper will discuss women’s role as resistance fighters against an occupation that is perceived as liberation in the West. It is my intention to show that the war on terror has not only misused women’s rights to blur its monstrous intentions, but because of its violent nature, the war on terror has created a reactionary sense of nationalism and pride amongst Muslim and Arab women to fight against and resist their so called liberators. The reality is that these women, by day, are mothers and often the head of household because their husbands have died; by night, they are freedom fighters.

Paper presenter: Sawsan Al-Assaf (Centre for International Studies, Baghdad University), “Contrasting Perspectives on Iraqi Women Political Roles”
This position paper discusses the political participation of Iraqi women before and after the occupation in 2003. It follows two perspectives: one optimistic, held largely by ex-patriot Iraqi women who returned to Iraq with the occupation, within NGOs or political parties; second a critical or pessimistic perspective, representing, in the authors estimation, the objective position of the majority of Iraqi women.
The first point of view is premised on the view that Iraqi women had not been directly part of the political process prior to occupation. Whereas the second view argues that Iraqi women had always played a role in the political life and enjoyed political participation since the 1950s, which continued even under the Ba’th period. What the occupation and its collaborators brought to Iraq, especially to Iraqi woman, was division on sectarian bases. Women’s political participation post-invasion has made them a tool political sectarianism. Thus, this view argues that Iraqi women are in reality politically marginalized by occupation. Iraqi women in general are more concerned now with the resultant chaos, kidnapping, militia violence, unemployment, education and healthcare problems, rather than the prospects of political participation. The present political process and its women do not reflect real issues. This view emphasizes that the end of the occupation is a national objective, and that the price paid by the majority of Iraqis, men and women alike, has been exile, poverty, and the absence of peace.

Paper presenter: Tahrir Swift (Women Will Association), “US Military, Mercenaries and Militias: Iraqi Women Negotiating Survival”
The notion of a prosperous, peaceful and democratic Iraq was promoted by the Bush and Blair administrations and the corporate media that marketed the invasion and occupation as an act of liberation. Speeches were delivered for the “noble” cause of saving the Iraqis from the grip of a brutal dictator who possessed weapons of mass destruction. In reality, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ targeted an Iraqi population that had already been crippled as a result of 13 years of sanctions approved by the UN and imposed by the UK and US.
This war was justified, in part, as a mission to protect and promote the rights of Iraqi women, as President George W. Bush proclaimed in his speech to the UN General Assembly on 12 September 2002. One questions however, if it was possible for the invaders to promote women’s rights in a country while waging war using deadly weapons such as cluster bombs and Depleted Uranium? Is it possible to promote healthy attitudes towards women and preserve their rights as the invading forces and their contractors enjoy impunity from any law and as the invading forces fail to comply with the Geneva Conventions?