Iraq: Insurgents impose curbs on women

Those who put on makeup or choose not to wear the veil fall victim to militants.
By Sahar al-Haideri and Wa'ad Ibraheem in Mosul (ICR No. 131, 05-Jul-05)
The phone calls that Miriem Ishaq, a Christian lawyer in this northern Iraqi city, received recently were chilling: wear the veil or face death, she was told.

Ishaq knew the threats were serious. A woman she knew personally had been killed during the last Muslim holy month of Ramadan for failing to wear a veil.

Then to underline the intimidation, several men attacked Ishaq on her way to work, poured acid on her clothes and spat on her face because she was unveiled.

"These attacks have forced hundreds of Christians to wear Islamic veils now," said Ishaq.

Many women in Mosul, north of Baghdad, say insurgent groups are trying to impose Taleban-style restrictions on them and make the city a more conservative place.

Women professors at the University of Mosul have been targeted. Three of the ten professors killed by insurgents were women.

One of the victims was Dr Eeman Abdul-Mun'im, head of the translation department. A colleague believes Abdul-Mun'im was targeted because insurgents wanted to send a message to translators to stop working for American security forces. Absdul-Mun'im had no ties to the American military.

"She received many threats but she refused to resign," said the colleague.

Another female university professor said the killings had forced women employees to take extra safety precautions.

One professor said she used to carry a small knife to work every day but the killings made this seem inadequate and now her brother escorts her to the university.

"If he can't come with me, then I can't go to work," she said. "My family worries about me all the time that I'm at the university."

One woman civil servant, who works at the university, said she hired a private taxi driver to take her to work.

"Even when I go to the market, I go with a driver," she said. "I'm worried all the time I am at work and I read the Quran until I get home."

The intimidation and the attacks have forced other women in Mosul to give up going to work. And outside the home many no longer wear makeup for fear of being attacked by militants.

One woman, who used to own a beauty salon, wept as she spoke about having to close it down after being threatened.

""It was a good source of income, and I liked my job in the hairdressing shop," said Sara, who declined to give her real name. "But a new Taleban movement has turned Iraq into another Afghanistan."

A civil servant said she used to buy the latest makeup available on the market but now goes to work with nothing on her face.

"I used to keep up with the latest makeup fashions," she said. "But now that the security situation has got worse, we are restricted and deprived of our rights and freedom."

Brigadier General Sa'eed al-Juboori, media manager of the Mosul police directorate, said the authorities were trying to improve security so that women were not deprived of their rights.

"We don't agree with them being forced to wear veils or stay at home," he said. "It is necessary to spread democracy."

The fear has spread to special occasions.

One female university student said she wore simple clothes at her wedding and did not have a party for fear she would be killed.

She decided to opt for a low-key affair after reading posters put up in the city saying that brides wearing wedding dresses and having wedding parties would be targeted.

Bassam Anees, who owned a hall used for wedding parties, said he had to close his business after receiving threats from insurgents. "Now I have no job," he said.

Sahar al-Haideri and Wa'ad Ibraheem are IWPR trainees in Mosul.