Women on the frontline

One hundred comrades crammed into the library of Conway Hall, London on November 7 to hear Yanar Mohammed of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq. Andy Hannah reports

The Baghdad-born activist and Worker-communist Party member outlined the descent into chaos following the ‘end of major operations’ in May. Iraq’s post-war borders are now porous, allowing activists from a variety of islamist organisations to confront the occupation forces with their own brand of reactionary anti-imperialism. The rise of political islam had brought kidnapping, rape and terror to Iraqi women, with a price on every woman’s head - $200 for a virgin, $100 for a housewife. OWFI had recorded 450 abductions since it was founded in June 24.

Comrade Mohammed gave a potted history of the women’s movement in Iraq, starting with the 1958 demonstration of 45,000 which succeeded in removing sharia-influenced law from the civil code. However, while initially defending these gains, the Ba’ath regime chipped away at them, allowing the resurfacing of ‘honour killings’ in the 1980s. According to comrade Mohammed, 4,000 women were legally murdered during the 1990s for bringing ‘dishonour’ on their families. While the coalition had made changes to some laws, they had not seen fit to annul the legalised murder of women.

Indeed, the US has been keen to cultivate contacts with the mosques, declaring Iraq a muslim country. The proposed new constitution and civil law is to be based on sharia - islamic law which establishes women as inferior to men, does not recognise them as witnesses in courts of law and allows husbands to take up to four wives. And allows families to kill ‘wayward’ sisters, wives and daughters with impunity.

Comrade Mohammed explained the work of OWFI, visiting factories and workplaces raising the issue of the veil, attacks on women, etc. She recounted the positive effects of women finding a voice for the first time - and the entrenched ideas of other women who accepted their ‘inferiority’ as part of some natural order.

Addressing a meeting organised by Occupation Watch, comrade Mohammed had met a man who justified the killing of prostitutes because they were “damaging Iraqi society”. Other women at the same meeting had warned her against defending sex workers: she would “lose her reputation” and be vulnerable to honour killing herself.

At a meeting with the minister of labour and social affairs Steven Spears, comrade Mohammed had demanded equality for women, a secular constitution and financial support for the many widows of this and previous conflicts. In addition, as part of her work with the Unemployed Union of Iraq, she demanded dole payments of $100 per month for the hundreds of thousands left without work. She was told payments would be considered for the blind and disabled - nothing more.

Comrade Mohammed then turned her attention to the western left, which had accommodated to political islam because of its anti-imperialist rhetoric. Her condemnation of the islamists resulted in her being banned from the platform of anti-war demonstrations in Canada - something which might well have been repeated in the UK, given the opportunist politics of the Socialist Workers Party and its weakness on reactionary anti-imperialism.

While revealing the true extent of the damage done to Iraq by US-UK imperialism, the destruction of civil society and the rubbing out of the limited gains of women by political islam, comrade Mohammed’s solution exposed weaknesses in the politics of the WCPI. Calling for the United Nations to occupy the country for at least a year, she claimed this would allow the women’s organisations to regenerate.

Comrade Mohammed failed to link the UN to the strategic interests of US imperialism, or locate it within the structure of imperialism which has brought such devastation to the country and unleashed - in ‘opposition’ to imperialism - political islam against women and the organised working class. Only class mobilisation, including the creation of armed militia to defend woman and workers from islamist goon squads, can produce effective opposition to the occupation and challenge the role of reactionary anti-imperialism.