The UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Human Rights has recorded the death of 133 women in Basra, 79 for breaking ‘Islamic laws’ and 42 ‘honour killings’, though this does not add up to the total number of deaths. In 2007, the grip of conservative Shi’a militias on Basra tightened after the withdrawal of the British army and hastened the atmosphere of fear that grips the women of that city.
Sawsan, another woman who works at a university, says the message from the radicals to women is simple: “They seem to be sending us a message to stay at home and keep your mouth shut.”
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Sawsan says, the situation was “the best.” But now, she says, it’s “the worst.”
“We thought there would be freedom and democracy and women would have their rights. But all the things we were promised have not come true. There is only fear and horror.”
The control of the militias has resulted in barbaric and violent actions designed to cow the inhabitants of Basra and enforce the power of the gangs. The punishment of infractions is designed to ensure that the militias maintain their control over their neighbourhoods, their families and their women. Such examples are deemed to be required by the militia since well-educated, civilised women had more freedom and, therefore, more to lose. The insecurity of the militia fuels their violence:
One glance through the police file is enough to understand the consequences. Basra’s police chief, Gen. Abdul Jalil Khalaf, flips through the file, pointing to one unsolved case after another.
“I think so far, we have been unable to tackle this problem properly,” he says. “There are many motives for these crimes and parties involved in killing women, by strangling, beheading, chopping off their hands, legs, heads.”
“When I came to Basra a year ago,” he says, “two women were killed in front of their kids. Their blood was flowing in front of their kids, they were crying. Another woman was killed in front of her 6-year-old son, another in front of her 11-year-old child, and yet another who was pregnant.”
The killers enforcing their own version of Islamic justice are rarely caught, while women live in fear.
Boldly splattered in red paint just outside the main downtown market, a chilling sign reads: “We warn against not wearing a headscarf and wearing makeup. Those who do not abide by this will be punished. God is our witness, we have notified you.”
The security forces in Basra are unable to protect the population from the actions of the gangs. Western charities may wring their hands and salve their threadbare consciences by blaming the security forces for not achieving miracles. Yet, these militia members are cowards and maim or kill their victims because they are defenceless. These barbarians would think twice about inflicting pain if their victims were well-armed rather than unarmed and could shoot back.
It is of lasting shame that Britain scuttled back to the airport and left Basra in the hands of these lunatics.