My broken dream for Iraqi Kurdistan / BERIVAN DOSKY – The Guardian UK


We hoped the end of Ba’athist rule would bring a new era of civic freedom. But for women especially, Iraq has become a prison., Sunday 17 March 2013- In 2003, I dreamed that once Saddam’s Ba’athist regime had tumbled, we could at last live in peace. Today, I wonder if the Ba’athist culture of despotism, repression and violence can ever be expelled.

I thought that the people of Iraq could leave the atrocities behind, that we would learn from our mistakes, and that no authority would again treat anyone like a second-class citizen. I wanted my children never to fear the experiences that their parents and grandparents and others went through. As a Kurd, I dreamed that no one would be oppressed merely for their ethnicity, and that none would again face chemical bombardment, genocide and exodus, or be denied their culture, language and history. I dreamed that the Kurds would no longer stay in the dark and unjust chapters of history.

As a woman, I dreamed of justice and equality, though I knew that the Kurdish women of this generation would pay a heavy price for equality. I dreamed that Kurdish women, who have borne stigmas of inferiority twice over, and the consequences of war, too, would finally be recognized as equal.

Everything I dreamed of seemed simple and normal – not much to ask for – but ten years later, all of it still seems far from coming true. The system in Iraq has gone from autocratic order to unpredictable disorder; a lack of trust and the pursuit of power have created a state without rules, just dangerous games.

The new Iraqi constitution recognized Kurdistan as an autonomous region, with a degree of control over its own resources, but without a framework for co-ordination – leaving co-operation between the federal centre (Baghdad) and the federal region (Kurdistan) almost unrecognizable as such. Each side defines federalism according to its interests; each abides by a few articles of the constitution and disregards the rest as it sees fit. The Kurds tried to share power and rebuild with other groups, but misinterpretations of the constitution, misunderstandings, and bad intentions created serious disputes between the two sides of the federal arrangement. At first, Kurds attributed these troubles to the methods of the first prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari; they started forming new alliances to force him to step down.

As time went on, however, it became clear that the problems stemmed not from individuals, but from the mentality of Iraqi-Arab elites, and how they saw the national demands of Kurds. Those with power have been unable to understand the heart of the Kurdish issue, or even the notion of sharing power at all.

Corruption and a lack of transparency have become the norm in Iraq. The Corruption Index for 2010 places Iraq fifth place among most corrupt countries in the world. Sadly, Kurdistan is not exempt from this negative picture of the whole Middle East.

Despite this, the federal region of Kurdistan has progressed in many ways over the last few years. Hopes of an oil boom have triggered construction in Erbil, the region’s capital and a city that local officials regard as the next Dubai. Kurdistan’s civil services have also progressed: in fact, this has become a safe haven for ethnic and religious minorities fleeing violence elsewhere in Iraq.

Without constitutional protection for the federal region from Baghdad or the international community, though, these advances face real danger. Even foreign bodies interfere: neighboring countries such as Turkey and Iran cross the border illegally on an almost daily basis. Baghdad and the rest of the world watch without a word of condemnation, let alone intervention.

This is bad enough, but the condition of women has become a disaster in the postwar era. Violence towards women throughout Iraq covers a wide range of practices, including honor killings, family pressure to commit suicide, forced marriages and domestic violence. Strict gender roles make women (and above all, their bodies and sexuality) a repository of the “honor” of the family, community, nation and so on. This is used to prevent them from being able to make decisions for themselves and others. Deviations from gender roles are often punished by the victims’ own inner circles.

There are no accurate statistics for violence against women in Iraq, making it difficult to deal with the problem. In spite of limited data, all agree that the violence is widespread. Some analysts claim, with reference to Unifem, that there are at least 400 honor killings a year; but most honor killings, suicides and other acts against women go unreported. In fact, after natural causes, honor killings are thought to be one of the leading causes of death for women in Kurdistan.

These figures stand in sharp contrast to the relatively few fatalities by terrorism in Kurdistan, though the government dedicates considerable resources to preventing it. The government has failed, meanwhile, to institute civil protections for women or prosecute these sorts of crimes. All of this must be seen within the broader picture of women’s exclusion from politics, in spite of the 30% quota introduced by Kurdish government.

As Islamic authorities climb to power across the post-Arab spring’s Middle East, there is a real fear that even the limited civil protections women hold will be swept away under the influence of strict religious laws, exacerbated by the culture of violence and the conservative religious and tribal structures that have grown stronger in the past decade.

In Kurdistan, religious parties still don’t have the majority support; instead, issues of national independence have long been at the heart of Kurdish issues. But the urgency of the national question has faded together with dissatisfaction with the ruling parties, and sympathy for religious groups is mounting. In this context, the future for women looks very dark indeed.

If everyone in Iraq desired a common destiny based on respect for human rights and transparent justice, in place of a pattern of revenge, the nation would have immediately risen to the challenges of reconciling factions and building bridges: Baghdad and Kurdistan with each other, and Iraq and with its neighbors. Iraqis should have felt such weariness with their long legacy of suffering that we should have given up the path of conflict and violence. Alas, this never happened.