Wednesday, July 05, 2006

All Iraq is Abu Ghraib

All Iraq is Abu Ghraib

Our streets are prison corridors and our homes cells as the occupiers go about their strategic humiliation and intimidation.

Haifa Zangana

Haifa Zangana is a woman for whom I have great admiration. She is brave, determnined, compassionate, and loves her country and its people very much. She's an Iraqi writer and women's rights activist. Her forthright opposition to Saddam Hussein and his regime led to her arrest and torture. She was in Sydney Australia for the recent Sydney Writers' Festival and was interviewed by George Negus for SBS' "Dateline" programme on May 24th 2006. The full transcript and a recording can be found here Haifa Zangani Interview extensive extracts are below in the second part of this posting.

She has published an article "All Iraq is Abu Ghraib" today Wednesday July 5th 2006 in the "Comment is free" section of The Guardian. Which I reproduce in full in the first part of this posting I've added links to the article text. I have crossposted this to my other blog.


A'beer Qassim al-Janaby, a 15-year-old Iraqi girl, was with her family in Mahmudiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad, when US troops raided the house. A group of soldiers have been charged with her rape and the murder of her father, mother, and nine-year-old sister. They are also accused of setting A'beer's body on fire.

The al-Janaby family lived near a US checkpoint, and the killings happened at 2pm on March 11. As usual, a US spokesman ascribed the killings to "Sunni Arab insurgents active in the area", contrary to local eyewitnesses.

A'beer's rape and murder is neither incidental nor the product of a US soldier's "personality disorder": it is part of a pattern that includes Abu Ghraib, as well as the Haditha, Ishaqi and Qaiem massacres. And we see this pattern as serving a strategic function beyond indiscriminate revenge: to couple collective humiliation with intimidation and terror.

Today, four years into the Anglo-American occupation, the whole of Iraq has become Abu Ghraib, with our streets as prison corridors and homes as cells. Iraqis are attacked in detention, on the streets and in their homes.

It took almost a year, and published photographs of horrific torture in Abu Ghraib, before the world began to heed the voices of the detainees and those trying to defend them. The same is happening to women victims.

Abuses, torture and the rape of Iraqi women have been reported for three years now by independent Iraqi organisations. But the racist logic of occupation means that occupied people are not to be trusted, and truth is the private ownership of the occupiers.

Families of the abused, raped, and killed Iraqi civilians have to wait for months, if not years, until a US soldier comes forward to admit responsibility and the US military begins an investigation. (For the US military to investigate a US soldier's crime has been seen by Iraqis as the killers investigating their own technical skills.)

On the October 19 2005, Freedom Voice, an Iraqi Human Rights society, reported the rape of three women from the "Saad Bin Abi Waqqas neighbourhood" in Tell Afar after a US raid.

The alleged rape took place by soldiers inside the women's own house after the arrest of their male relatives. Medical sources in the town said one of the women died. A US commander ordered some soldiers detained, and no more was heard of this.

Immunity from prosecution under Iraqi or international law is the main fact of the occupation and renders laughable any claims of sovereignty. It is based on UN security council resolution 1546 [link is to PDF - mfi] and the accompanying exchange of letters between Iraqi and American authorities. This immunity applies equally to the marine units accused of roaming our streets high on drugs and to advisers running ministries, to prison guards, security guards, multinational forces and corporate contractors of all kinds.

The Iraqi women's ordeal began the moment occupation forces descended upon them. Most arrests and raids take place after midnight. In some neighborhoods, women now sleep fully dressed so as not to be caught in their nightgowns. Armoured cars and helicopters are sometimes deployed in raids, in a variant on "shock and awe". Troops force women and children to watch as they deliberately humiliate their husbands, sons or fathers, and sometimes order them to take pictures with US soldiers' cameras. Money and jewellery are taken. Are these "terrorist assets confiscated" or spoils of war?

Random arrests, rapes and killings by the occupation forces continue under the so-called "national unity government", which renewed their mandate and immunity while at the same time talking of a "national reconciliation initiative".

Despite all the rhetoric, a female minister for human rights and dozens of US-funded Iraqi women's organisations, the only outcry we have heard condemning the rape of A' beer and the plight of Iraqi women under occupation is from the anti-occupation Islamist movement.

Occupation authorities and their puppet regime share the denial of violence against women. After the sexual abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, the authorities talked about respecting local traditions, and the need to avoid provoking anger and give the Iraqi people the sense that the occupation recognises the sensitive status of women.

On occasion, Iraqi collaborators joined in. On April 18 2004, the ministry of interior chief, Ahmed Youssef, issued a statement denying maltreatment of female detainees. He said: "We are Muslims. We know very well how to treat our female detainees." As if violence against women were not a universal crime.

The abuses continue also in the puppet regime's prisons. On October 20 2005, officials of the Kazemiya women's prison reported an instance of rape. The UN was refused permission to investigate. According to a report of the UN assistance mission to Iraq, Iraqi police tortured a woman who had been detained in Diwaniya police station since March 2005. The victim recounted that electric shocks were applied to her heels. She was reportedly told her teenage daughter would be raped if she did not supply the information her interrogators wanted.

A report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights on October 29 2005 found that women held in interior ministry detention centres are subject to numerous human rights violations, including "systematic rape by the investigators and ... other forms of bodily harm in order to coerce them into making confessions". The report added that prisons fail to meet even the most basic standards of hygiene, and that the women were deprived of facilities as fundamental as toilets. The ministry of justice has confirmed the accuracy of the report.

The wall of denial is cracking. On June 12, al-Jazeera showed footage of Mohammed al-Diaeny, a member of parliament, going to a prison in Baquba, near Baghdad, where men showed evidence of torture and talked of being raped. Seven women detainees were shown but refused to talk. "Too ashamed", whispered one of them. In response, Jawad al-Bolani, minister of the interior, promised investigation. He later vowed to release all women prisoners and negotiate with the multinational forces to release theirs.

There will be no end to these violations as long as Iraq remains occupied by forces that enjoy immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law and as long as the occupation authorities continue to treat Iraqi citizens with racist contempt in order to feel better about plundering the nation's wealth and depriving its people of their most fundamental rights under international law and human rights conventions.

The Iraqi puppet regime's promises and US investigations of the "personality disorders" of their soldiers and the "few bad apples" are irrelevant for Iraqis: for them, the Anglo-American occupation means destruction, rape and pillage.


GEORGE NEGUS: You have said that the series of interim governments that have occurred over the last few years, since the invasion, have been a total disaster. What about the latest attempt at a government? The new government of national unity?

HAIFA ZANGANA: Hardly anything has changed really. What we are witnessing in this new government is almost the cloning of the same people, or the same sectarian and ethnic divide they were establishing under Paul Bremer, the ex-ambassador of Iraq.

GEORGE NEGUS: Will it work as a government? You're making it sound like a puppet government.

HAIFA ZANGANA: It is a puppet government nothing more or less. I don't think it is going to accomplish anything different than the previous one. All they are receiving They are on the receiving end of orders from the unexpected visits by Condoleezza Rice, Jack Straw previously, and to orders from Bush and Blair.

GEORGE NEGUS: So you don't see it as a true attempt at an Iraqi government at all?

HAIFA ZANGANA: It isn't at all. It is not even a government even. It is a government of the green zone. It is an occupation government. An occupation government, no matter what it does, it doesn't represent people and their aspirations. People have the right to rule themselves.

GEORGE NEGUS: Are you saying that life in Iraq is no better or in fact worse than it was under Saddam Hussein, the dictator?

HAIFA ZANGANA: He is not our moral yardstick on any level regarding political government with political attitudes at all and invasion. So better or worse, we are entitled o to democracy as much as any other country. And democracy the way we understand it is not taking place at the moment.

GEORGE NEGUS: We should look at it this way. You were imprisoned and tortured under Saddam, right?

HAIFA ZANGANA: I was, yeah.

GEORGE NEGUS: How badly? Can you give us some picture?

HAIFA ZANGANA: Terrible. It was terrible. It was something beyond imagination and it is still happening. The same thing is happening now in Iraq. So we are against this continuity of torture. This is why we fought Saddam's regime. We did not fight for 35 years to replace it by another torturer.

GEORGE NEGUS: I guess what a lot of people in the West would say, particularly government leaders and leaders of the coalition, is that you can say this now. Could you say this in Iraq now? Where you couldn't criticise Saddam without finding yourself in prison and tortured, now can your voice be heard in Iraq?

HAIFA ZANGANA: No, you can't actually. Iraqis inside Iraq cannot say what I'm saying at the moment here. I'm saying it because I am here. I feel safe and secure. I would not be able to. Because whoever voicing any issue against the occupation is Iraq is targeted. We have the academics being targeted, we have hundreds of our scientists being killed, academics, lectures, professors, whoever. Journalists we have the biggest campaign of killing journalists. Fiction writers - we have a fiction writer who'd been imprisoned for three years, not even saying a word about anything.


GEORGE NEGUS: Doesn't that leave Iraq and people like yourself in a no-win situation? If you listen to Condoleezza Rice, she says that all that has gone wrong, the thousands of mistakes that she has acknowledged has occurred is worth it - to get rid of Saddam, it was worth it.

HAIFA ZANGANA: This is a total farce. And it is continuing what we heard from Madeline Albright, before that when Iraq was under sanctions, when 500,000 children were killed or died because, as a consequence of the harsh sanctions on Iraqi people. 500,000 children were killed and she said that the price was worth it. And here is Condoleezza Rice repeating the same thing. "We are only committing mistakes in Iraq." It is not mistakes. When you kill a person this is a crime, you do not call it a mistake. So crimes are committed in Iraq every day. In fact there is an Iraqi being killed at the minute where we're talking now. One Iraqi per every five minutes killed as a consequence, direct consequence of the occupation. So we are asking for the withdrawal of troops and immediate withdrawal - not to go on for 5 years or 10 years and prolonging, putting a timetable to it. The way they walked in the troops, they have to leave.

GEORGE NEGUS: Let's talk about that. Because in the last few days Tony Blair has talked about the withdrawal of troops, George Bush has talked about the withdrawal of troops, Blair has gone so far as to say maybe by the end of the year all the British and American troops will be out, I suppose that means Australian, except for a couple of key areas like Baghdad and the West. What would occur if there was this withdrawal that you say Iraqis want, if that was to happen in the next six months?

HAIFA ZANGANA: To start with, we have to make it clear that the withdrawal that Tony Blair's talking about, or Bush, is different about the withdrawal we're talking about. I am talking about the complete withdrawal of troops. That doesn't mean they go around and build bases, American bases in Iraq which they are doing at the moment. There are more than 14 bases building. And there is the biggest embassy in the world. And no signing of long-term binding agreements, not on behalf of Iraqi people but on behalf of these interim governments or the puppet governments at the moment. This is second.
Third - there should be a compensation for all the crimes being committed against Iraqi people, whether in life or the destruction of the country. So we're talking about a different kind of withdrawal. They said the country is going to descend into civil war. But we it have already. Those occupation forces there, they are encouraging it because they are emphasising the force of one militia against the other, even supplying weapons to certain militias against the other. So who is encouraging civil war?
There is no civil war among Iraqi people themselves. There are the militias fighting. And there is another kind of war which no-one is talking about. This is really the fighting of Iraqi resistance against the occupation forces.

GEORGE NEGUS: How do you draw the line, then, between a terrorist and an insurgent, and an insurgent and a resistance fighter?

HAIFA ZANGANA: There are differences. I'm talking about 80 attacks per day, average, which has being really constant for the last two years and targeting American and British troops. This is, for me, pure resistance. I cannot really believe this is terrorist acts or any civilian act, attacking civilians. This is Iraqi national movement demanding liberation, independence and building our own country, the democracy as we see it democracy because we are desperate for democracy and we want to do it that way. Not by shock and awe.


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