In March 2003, President George W. Bush stated in a radio address that American and coalition forces had, “begun a concerted campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein,” and that, “our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”
April 2003: Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square is pulled to the ground. Iraqis pull the head of the statue through the streets hitting it with their shoes. Footage of the event is shown on news networks around the world. Iraq seems to be headed towards a bright future.
The Iraqi Women’s League reports they believe more than 400 Iraqi women have been “abducted, raped, and sometimes sold.”
2005: The first democratic elections are held in Iraq. According to the Iraqi constitution, 25% of Parliament seats must be filled by women — this is obviously a huge step forward for Iraqi women. In the 2013 United States Congress, women fill only 18% of seats.
Narmin Othman, who at this time was serving as the minister of women’s affairs, survives an assassination attempt when gunmen attack her convoy. She is currently serving as the minister for the environment.
2007: Several media reports emerge stating that Iraqi girls and women are being sold into prostitution, and about 1.2 million refugees are living in Syria, where the sex trade of Iraqi women is rampant. Several of these refugees are living in female-headed households, because men have either been killed or kidnapped.
2008: It is reported that Iraqi women are being tortured and killed by members of fundamentalist groups for not adhering to strict rules about dress and appearance, for example, not wearing the hijab or wearing makeup. Amnesty International releases a statement that abductions, rapes and “honor killings” are on the rise. A woman quoted in a CNN article states, “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.”
2010: Tired of being ignored in society and in political processes, several Iraqi women begin their own political party under the leadership of Jenan Mubarak. Mubarak is quoted as saying, “I want to tell women, ‘You can do a lot.’ I want them to know they have choices; that they can be whatever they want. ‘Your achievements are who you are.”
2010: Officially, the United States ends its combat operations. Troop numbers are decreased to around 49,000.
2011: Other Middle Eastern and North African countries are reporting advancements in women’s rights and living conditions. Despite the United States’ military presence, this is not the case in Iraq. According to a report released by the group Freedom House, conditions for women in Iraq have worsened.
March 2013: The 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War. More women and girls are illiterate than 25 years ago. The average marriage age is 13 to 15 years old. One woman interviewed by activist Zainab Salbi states, “During Saddam’s time I used to fear his sons … now I fear everyone. We [women] could roam around and go wherever we wanted without worrying during Saddam’s time. Our fear was political. We couldn’t talk. We couldn’t express our views … but that fear has now spread to the streets. I can no longer walk there.”
It is clear now, 10 years later, that Iraqi women are not free. They are not free to get an education; they are not free from sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and murder. But they are fighting back — by starting their own political parties, running for office, and choosing whether or not they want to wear hijab. It is impossible for them to make permanent progress while the forces of military occupation and resulting sectarian violence fight against them. To try to liberate a people and occupy them at the same time is insanely hypocritical. Only when the Iraq War is over can the Iraqis — both men and women — be free.
Written by Laurel Reed