Office of International Women's Issues
March 20, 2003
Iraqi Women Under Saddam's Regime: A Population Silenced
Situation for Women in Saddam's Iraq
In 1979, immediately upon coming to power, Saddam Hussein silenced all political opposition in Iraq and converted his one-party state into a cult of personality. Since then, his regime has systematically executed, tortured, imprisoned, raped, terrorized, and repressed the Iraqi people. Iraq is a nation rich in culture, with a long history of intellectual and scientific achievement, especially among its women. However, Saddam Hussein's brutal regime has silenced the voices of Iraq's women, along with its men, through violence and intimidation.
In Iraq under Saddam, if you are a woman, you could face:
Beheading. Under the pretext of fighting prostitution, units of "Fedayeen Saddam," the paramilitary organization led by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son, have beheaded in public more than 200 women throughout the country, dumping their severed heads at their families' doorsteps. Many families have been required to display the victim's head on their outside fences for several days. These barbaric acts were carried out in the total absence of any proper judicial procedures and many of the victims were not engaged in prostitution, but were targeted for political reasons. For example, Najat Mohammad Haydar, an obstetrician in Baghdad, was beheaded after criticizing the corruption within health services. (Amnesty International Report, Iraq: Systematic Torture of Political Prisoners, August 2001; Iraqi Women's League in Damascus, Syria)
Rape. The Iraqi Government uses rape and sexual assault of women to achieve the following goals: to extract information and forced confessions from detained family members; to intimidate Iraqi oppositionists by sending videotapes showing the rape of female family members; and to blackmail Iraqi men into future cooperation with the regime. Some Iraqi authorities even carry personnel cards identifying their official "activity" as the "violation of women's honor." (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2001, March 2002; Iraq Research and Documentation Project, Harvard University)
Torture. The Iraqi Government routinely tortures and kills female dissidents and the female relatives of Iraqi oppositionists and defectors. Victims include Safiyah Hassan, the mother of two Iraqi defectors, who was killed after publicly criticizing the Iraqi Government for killing her sons after their return to Iraq. Women in Saddam's jails are subjected to the following forms of torture: brutal beatings, systematic rape, electrical shocks, and branding. (U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2001, March 2002; U.S. Department of State, Iraq: A Population Silenced, December 2002)
Murder. In 1990, Saddam Hussein introduced Article 111 into the Iraqi Penal Code in a calculated effort to strengthen tribal support for his regime. This law exempts men who kill their female relatives in defense of their family's honor from prosecution and punishment. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women reported that more than 4,000 women have been victims of so-called "honor killings" since Article 111 went into effect. (UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, January 2002)
U.S. Support for Iraqi Women
All people deserve to live in freedom, including the men and women of Iraq. On March 6, 2003, a group of free Iraqi women met with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, and Ambassador at Large for a Free Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. The women shared their experiences under Saddam's reign of terror. As this group made clear, Iraqi women are eager to participate in the process of building a peaceful, democratic post-Saddam society. They want their society to once again be based on progressive Iraqi traditions and values. They believe in the universal principles of human rights.
As in Afghanistan, the United States Government is prepared to help Iraqis with the priorities and projects that they identify as the best way to achieve their goals. We will continue to meet with Iraqi women and exchange ideas about their path forward. As Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky stated after her recent meeting with a group of free Iraqi women: "It is clear that the women of Iraq have a critical role to play in the future revival of their society. They bring skills and knowledge that will be vital to restoring Iraq to its rightful place in the region and in the world."