Another September 11th has been and gone. Flags were waved, tears were shed and silence observed. Generals offered their assessments and politicians blustered. Across the political spectrum, we Americans continue to insist upon our unwavering support for the troops, from the right-wing call for continued funding of their work to the left-wing call to bring them home.
In what can only be called the epitome of American arrogance, concern for the plight of the Iraqi people, particularly the 4 million of whom are now refugees is absent from the rhetoric, the clear implication being that that our suffering, which is the result of our own failed policies, is far more important than the suffering we have inflicted upon others. Missing from the national dialog is any sense of pressing horror at the lack of electricity and potable water in Iraq , or the trauma and malnutrition, especially among children.
Of particular concern is the increasingly dire plight of Iraqi women, whose lives President Bush promised to better. "Violence against women and girls has been an invisible but constant feature of ethnic cleansing, which the US continues to ignore," according to the human rights organization Madre in their analysis of the Petraeus report, a point made all too clear by the slaughter of women and children by U.S. Marines at Haditha. As Madre points out, that women cannot go out in public without their husbands or that girls are forbidden to attend school in some areas is not a factor in the rosy assessments of progress being made.
In addition, pregnant women face serious dangers because of the constant bombing, curfews, lack of electricity and safe water, hospitals that have been destroyed and lack of medicine and medical personnel. According to reports from Save the Children and UNICEF, rates of maternal mortality, anemia and underweight children have sky-rocketed as have the mortality rates for children under five.
There have been numerous reports of women in Iraq being kidnapped or sold into sexual slavery by families desperate to put food on the table. Widows are particularly vulnerable. Al Jazeera reports that prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraqi widows were provided with financial and housing help and free education for their children. Today, no such safety net exists.
The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) estimates that some 4000 women and girls have disappeared since the U.S. invasion and have likely been trafficked to other countries and forced into prostitution. Honor killings have also risen dramatically since the U.S. invaded Iraq. In Kurdish Iraq alone there have been 350 such deaths so far this year and there were 95 reports of women committing suicide by self-immolation during the first six months of 2007.
As difficult as life is in Iraq, leaving the country poses significant problems for women as well. Iraqi law requires that women have permission from a male relative in order to get a passport, which is only obtainable in Baghdad, a journey that is too difficult and dangerous to be feasible for many women who do not dare risk traveling without a male relative.
For those women who are able to leave, economic realities force many to turn to prostitution in order to feed their families. The Independent (UK) reports that some 50,000 refugee women are now working as prostitutes. While that number seems huge, given that there are an estimated 4 million refugees, the majority women and children who are not being allowed to work in other occupations, the number is sadly believable.
As horrific as the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Iraq is, in terms of American politics, it is the expected and acceptable collateral damage of war, where the lives of women and children in particular are routinely discounted. Certainly it is not worthy of Congressional attention or media coverage. The unfortunate truth is that it will take much more than bringing the troops home to truly end the war. Yet with persistent myopia, we continue to discuss Iraq in terms of our national honor, refusing to acknowledge the true scope of the carnage and humanitarian disaster that we have inflicted upon the Iraqis, especially women and children. To continue to do so is an act of great folly, one that will ultimately become our greatest national disgrace.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Counterpunch , Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams, In These Times and Information Clearinghouse. She also blogs at WIMN Online and writes a monthly column for the Louisville Eccentric Observer.