Women’s rights in Iraq

Freelance journalist Thierry Robin is blogging from Baghdad about the plight of women in post-war Iraq.

Freelance journalist Thierry Robin has entered Iraq to cover the plight of women in post-war Iraqi society. She He wrote to me the following:

I’m a freelance reporter and a member of the ABIR (Association for the Benefit of the Iraqi Women and their Relatives) association. I will go on a trip to Iraq from 8th to 22nd of October and I will blog from Baghdad about women’s rights (in French and in English). I thought you could be interested in this initiative and that’s why I’m contacting you.
With other members of ABIR, we will bring material to a dispensary and an orphanage. We will also meet Hanaa Edward from the local NGO “Al Amal” and other persons involved in the promotion of women’s rights in Iraq. It will be an opportunity for me to make several reports with the aim of catching people’s attention about the appalling fate of Iraqi women and girls: Sexual violences, abductions and murders are widespread, preventing the women from taking part in the postwar society.

Her His blog is up, and the English version is at the bottom of the postings. Her His reporting on the needs of the sick and the dying in the woefully under-equipped Baghdad hospitals are heartbreaking. And — big surprise — the violence that the Bush administration says is getting too much attention is omnipresent.
*UPDATE* Thank to my non-existent French skills, and the sharp eyes of two of my readers, David Frazer and Amy N., I found out that Thierry is a man, not a woman. My apologies for the screw-up. Thanks for the correction, guys!

Press outrage

Former Ba’athist information ministers are getting jobs with the same Western news organizations they used to spy on.

This will likely come as no surprise to my Iraqi readers, but I came across this tidbit in a Guardian article about the vestiges of Saddam’s grip on Iraq:

Almost all of the bureaucrats at [Saddam’s] information ministry have done very nicely for themselves since the war. The government minders who spent their days reporting to the intelligence services on foreign reporters or doing their best to obstruct their work have gone on to well-paid jobs – for the same foreign news organisations they once hounded.
The second-in-command at the information ministry, who spent his days reading the reports the minders wrote about visiting foreign journalists, has been employed by Fox News.

I just shake my head at this one… As Josh over at TalkingPointsMemo notes, if CNN had done this, this might raise more than a few eyebrows.
The rest of the article is an interesting read, too.

Update to Flag Flap

Update on the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

A knowledgeable friend who was in Kirkuk a few weeks ago wrote in to tell me that the Kurds — and other political parties such as the Turkoman Front — had been flying their flags since at least the beginning of August. Three days ago, when the Coalition Provisional Authority instructed the flags be taken down, Kurds pelted U.S. soldiers with stones. The CPA soon reversed itself, the reason for the previous entry.
As my friend wrote: “When I was there [in early August], the city was FILLED with Kurdish flags. It is truly unbelievable, and quite beautiful. Every single building had a Kurdistan flag flying. Many walls had Kurdish flags painted on them. Even the lightposts had Kurdish flags painted on them.”
The flagrant flag flying was news to me. I had heard from friends in the area that the Iraqi flag (minus Saddam’s post-1991 Arabic additions) had been flying since the early summer or so. In fact, when I was there in April on the day of Kirkuk’s liberation, there were many old-style Iraqi flags being waved about — in addition to the political parties’ flags. When did the Kurds and others begin putting up their own flags? I don’t know.
Anyway, the decision to let the Kurds wave their banner high in Kirkuk seems to be a reverting to the status quo, although one that I still think is decidedly shaky. Regardless of the validity of the Kurds’ claims on Kirkuk (and I think they’re pretty damn valid), flaunting the Kurdish nature of the city in the face of Turkey and its Turkoman brethren is asking for trouble.
Anyway, this flag lag reveals a source of major frustration for me. My sources communicate too slowly to allow for timeliness. Trying to parse Kurdish and Arabic English-language media over the net is a bit of a fool’s game. In short, there’s no good way to cover Iraq from New York, and I have no way to get to Iraq any time soon.

Assassination in Najaf

The assassination today of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of an Iran-backed group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), in Najaf is the latest nightmare of violence in Iraq.

Unfortunately on deadline today and unable to give a full accounting or analysis on a news-heavy day. Daily Kos has an item on the attack.
Initial response based on NPR: This is very, very bad (obviously). Twenty 75 More than 90 people dead and at least 140 wounded. The most holy shrine to Shi’a Islam is damaged [UPDATE but not too badly, apparently.] Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a key Shi’a cleric and head of the SCIRI, is dead. Shi’ites in Najaf seem to be blaming remnants of Saddam’s security forces for the attack. (Which seems plausible.)
Hakim’s death could shatter the Iraqi Governing Council, on which Hakim’s brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, sits. It could set off a power struggle among the Shi’ites with the moderates — now possibly led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (who isn’t even that moderate, frankly) — and the hard-liners, led by firebrand 22-year-old Moqtada Sadr.
If it turns out that Sunnis were behind this, expect riots and clashes in Baghdad.
Iran will be watching this very closely as well. Hakim was their guy in Iraq and it’s unclear now what will happen.
Tin-foil hat theory of my own: Al Qa’ida operatives, who are Sunni, did this in a bid to spark a civil war, which would embroil U.S. troops and tie them down when they might be needed in South Korea, Indonesia, Afghanistan, etc. The attack also aims to show the Arab world that American troops aren’t up to providing security and can be put on the defensive. This will embolden _jihadis_ and give other nations yet another reason to withhold additional troops. All this means America will likely remain pretty much on its own in Iraq and her ability to respond to threats around the world will be negatively impacted. Instead of flypaper for terrorists, Iraq is a tarbaby for America.
This could be the equivalent of the assassination of the Archuduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked World War I — although on national scale, rather than a global one. The probability of civil war — with American troops caught in the middle — just spiked.

Security Report

Iraq Today’s Security Bulletin shows how bad things are around Baghdad.

Well, this is pretty bleak. Iraq Today, Baghdad’s independent, English-language newspaper, publishes a Security Bulletin that doesn’t paint an encouraging picture:

CMCC [Civil-Military Coordination Center] cites Adhamiyah, Rusafa, Thowra, al-Muthanna, Shaab, Hurriyah, Shuahla and the area around Saddam International airport as uncertain or hostile areas.
Carjacking is rife in the capital. Do not walk around the streets with bags or mobile/satellite phones.
The curfew in Baghdad begins at 11pm and ends at 4am.
Iraq’s highways are considered dangerous. Highway 10 between Baghdad and the Jordanian border is especially hazardous, particularly around the Ramadi area. Armed bandits operate this route, using fast cars to stop large convoys of vehicles. Highway 8, between Baghdad and Hillah is also considered a no go route by humanitarian organisations. Highway 1, between Baghdad and Qasim is also very dangerous.
Police are present on the streets of the capital but they are Out-gunned and outnumbered.

Jeeze. Good to know. Especially about Highway 10. I took that highway when I left Baghdad in late April, but didn’t have any problems. We ran it during the day, and there were a number of places where earthen embankments had been set up forcing the taxi to follow a tight “S” path verrrrrrry slowly — in other words, it would have been great for an ambush. Luckily, nothing happened. When J., my friend who left a week or so before me, took that route, however, he mentioned that his driver stopped to chat with a man on the side of the road wearing a black face mask and carrying an AK-47. Nice.