NEWS & OPINION: Re-Baathification; Basra’s ‘misery gangs’ murdering women

Iraq eases curb for former officials of Hussein’s party

The Iraqi Parliament passed a bill on Saturday that would allow some former officials from Saddam Hussein’s party to fill government positions but would impose a strict ban on others. The legislation is the first of the major so-called political benchmark measures to pass after months of American pressure for progress.

The measure, which is expected to be approved as a law by the presidential council, was described by its backers as opening the door for the reinstatement of thousands of low-level Baath Party members barred from office after the 2003 invasion. Since then, the Bush administration has urged the Iraqi government to reintegrate many officials in order to help mend the deep rifts between Sunni Arabs who used to control the government under Mr. Hussein and the Shiites who now dominate politics here.

However, it was unclear on Saturday how far the legislation would go toward soothing Sunni Arabs, because serious disagreements emerged in the hours after the vote about how much the law would actually do.

While the measure would reinstate many former Baathists, some political leaders said it would also force thousands of other former party members out of current government jobs and into retirement — especially in the security forces, where American military officials have worked hard to increase the role of Sunnis. One member of Iraq’s current de-Baathification committee said the law could even push 7,000 active Interior Ministry employees into retirement. [complete article]

Who is killing the women of Basra?

In Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, 2008 was ushered in with an announcement of the 2007 death toll of women targeted by Islamist militias. City officials reported on December 31 that 133 women were killed and mutilated last year, their bodies dumped in trash bins with notes warning others against “violating Islamic teachings…” But ambulance drivers who are hired to troll the city streets in the early mornings to collect the bodies confirm what most residents believe: the actual numbers are much higher.

The killers’ leaflets are not very original. They usually accuse the women of being prostitutes or adulterers. But those murdered are more likely to be doctors, professors, or journalists. We know this because activists from the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) have taken on the gruesome task of visiting city morgues to try and determine the scale and pattern of the killings. According to OWFI, most of the women who have been murdered “are PhD holders, professionals, activists, and office workers.”

Their crime is not “promiscuity,” but rather opposition to the transformation of Iraq into an Islamist state. That bloody transition has been the main political trend under US occupation. It’s no secret who is killing the women of Basra. Shiite political forces empowered by the US invasion have been terrorizing women there since 2003. Within weeks of the invasion, these groups established “Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” squads, which many Iraqis refer to simply as “misery gangs.” They began by patrolling the streets, harassing and sometimes beating women who did not dress or behave to their liking. Coalition forces did nothing to stop them, and soon the militias escalated their violence to torturing and assassinating anyone who they saw as an obstacle to turning Iraq into an Islamist state. [complete article]

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