Meet the Daughters of Iraq
Via Jessica Grose, Alexandra Zavis has a frightening story in today’s Los Angeles Times about how the U.S. military is now sponsoring a “Daughters of Iraq” program to supplement its our-militias-are-awesome-and-unproblematic Sons of Iraq program. What I’m about to say is hard to express and so I apologize in advance for any missteps. But this is a program that is practically guaranteed to get women needlessly murdered.
Ever heard how members of the Iraqi security forces talk about women on the streets? I have, in Baghdad and Mosul, and it’s disgusting. I have heard Iraqi police officers talk about how they would never let women walk around after dark, and I assure you they did not mean it as a protective measure. Consider what the Iraqi-male reaction is to the Daughters of Iraq:
“In our culture, we can’t have women standing in public on a checkpoint,” said Riyad abu Mohammed, deputy commander of Adhamiya’s 843 Sons of Iraq. “It isn’t good for us, for her or her family.”…
“A woman can’t do this work,” snapped one of Abu Mohammed’s deputies, who gave his name as Sabbah. “It is dangerous.”
And so what’s the U.S. reaction? Dismissal.
Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of day-to-day operations in Iraq, was diplomatic about the frustrations expressed by some of his officers.
“It is a cultural issue,” he said. “It’ll be one of these things that will take some time to work through. They’re a little slow in letting women be able to do some jobs. We’ve got to break through some barriers.”
Welcome to the combustible intersection of sexism and imperialism. What an Iraqi man with a gun and a grievance hears from that is that the occupiers are now taking women and forcing them to do men’s work and that emasculates him and humiliates him and now it’s time for vengeance. U.S. troops will only be one target. Iraqi women will be the primary one. This is a completely predictable outcome. Shiite militias and Sunni insurgent groups will murder these women. Zavis’s piece says the U.S. wants to move the Daughters into checkpoints and market security — exposed areas, in other words — and they don’t get to carry weapons. Why not paint targets on them while we’re at it?
I am not, for a second, either calling Iraqi culture particularly more sexist than our own, nor am I saying that we should have anything but solidarity with Iraqi women’s liberation. But for the U.S. to entice women — it should be stated that the SOI program is relatively lucrative in a country suffering from massive unemployment — into doing security work is not a formula for liberation, it’s a formula for getting women killed. And anyone who thinks the U.S. has a good track record of keeping its Iraqi allies alive needs to remember the lessons that George Packer taught us.