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"She might just be the bravest Iraqi woman ever"
Charges of rape shake "new Iraq"

By Eric Ruder | March 2, 2007 | Pages 1 and 2

AN IRAQI woman's courageous public stand against the police who raped her is galvanizing outrage around the world and shaking the U.S.-backed Iraqi regime.

"She might just be the bravest Iraqi woman ever," wrote Riverbend, the Iraqi woman who has written an Internet blog about conditions in her country since the invasion four years ago. "Everyone knows American forces and Iraqi security forces are raping women (and men), but this is possibly the first woman who publicly comes out and tells about it using her actual name."

Sabrine Al-Janabi appeared on Al Jazeera television to say that she was abducted from her home by Iraqi security forces, taken to a detention center and raped by several officers. Days later, a second woman from northwestern Iraq came forward to say she had been raped by four soldiers.

Tragically, these cases are not exceptional. As Riverbend explains, "[Sabrine] might have been one of those subtitles you read on CNN or BBC or Arabiya, '13 insurgents captured by Iraqi security forces.' The men who raped her are those same security forces Bush and Condi are so proud of--you know--the ones the Americans trained...

What else to read

Riverbend's Baghdad Burning blog is updated regularly--when electricity supplies allow--with an eyewitness account of what life is like for ordinary Iraqis.

For daily news and analysis of the situation in Iraq and the wider Middle East, read Electronic Iraq and Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog.

The crucial book on Iraq for antiwar activists is Anthony Arnove's Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, recently republished in an updated paperback edition from the American Empire Project with a foreword by Howard Zinn.


"She's just one of tens, possibly hundreds, of Iraqi women who are violated in their own homes and in Iraqi prisons. She looks like cousins I have. She looks like friends. She looks like a neighbor I sometimes used to pause to gossip with in the street. Every Iraqi who looks at her will see a cousin, a friend, a sister, a mother, an aunt."

What does make Sabrine's case exceptional is her bravery in speaking about her abuse to the media, risking social stigma and the possibility of deadly retribution. Her courage has forced a public discussion about the use of rape as a tactic of war--aimed at terrorizing Iraqis willing to resist the Bush administration's troop surge into Baghdad.

Sabrine's tearful recounting of the assault gripped viewers throughout Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at first announced there would be a thorough investigation of the incident and swift punishment for the security officers involved.

But within hours, he reversed himself, labeling Sabrine a "liar" and "wanted criminal" and asserting that the clothes of a person kidnapped by Sunni militants had been found in the woman's home. Because Sabrine had been preparing food for a large number of people, she was accused of cooking for the Sunni resistance.

Maliki's aim was to play on sectarian divisions between Shia and Sunni Muslims, which have flourished under the U.S. occupation. He not only exonerated the accused officers, but said they should be rewarded for having to endure false accusations. He also promptly fired a top Sunni official who criticized Maliki for his attempt to shift responsibility for the abuse away from government security forces.

It is widely known that U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces are dominated by Shia militias that have carried out a frightening number of abductions, interrogations by torture, rapes and executions. U.S. troops themselves have also committed rapes and killings of Iraqis women and girls.

In late February, Sgt. Paul Cortez was sentenced to 100 years in prison for the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl. Cortez and three other soldiers also killed the girl's younger sister and her parents. Cortez and Spc. James Barker, who was sentenced to 90 years in November, will be eligible for parole in 10 years, and two other soldiers who took part are still awaiting trial.

For Riverbend, these human rights abuses--carried out both by U.S. troops and the Iraqi forces they maintain in power--are the reason the U.S. has already lost in Iraq.

"Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It's worse. It's over. You lost," she wrote. "You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets.

"You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power, and hailed them as Iraq's first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3,000 troops. That is what you lost, America."

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