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Iraqi and American activists in joint campaign for peace

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One important part of the Right to Heal campaign is to try to prevent future wars, says Yanar Mohammed from Women's Freedom in Iraq, OWFI. Photo: Right to Heal.

One important part of the Right to Heal campaign is to try to prevent future wars, says Yanar Mohammed from Women's Freedom in Iraq, OWFI. Photo: Right to Heal.

A wave of deadly attacks has once again hit the Iraqi civilian population. But at the same time, new peace initiatives emerge. Anti-war activists from Iraq and the United States have launched the joint campaign Right to Heal.

Recently, the Iraqi population has experienced a period of increased violence, with recurrent deadly attacks against civilians. According to United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, UNAMI, at least 1 045 Iraqis were killed in May and another 2 397 were wounded. That’s the worst numbers since 2008.

Still, there are beacons of light in the darkness.

“As human rights activists, we are determined to scrutinize all the wrongdoings of the war and also try to prevent future wars” says Yanar Mohammed, chairwoman of the organisation Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).

Yanar Mohammed is one of the founders of the Right to Heal campaign, which was launched outside the White House in New York on March 19. Marking the ten-year-anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, the campaign seeks to hold the US government responsible for the long-term effects of the war.

“We demand reparations for the people of Iraq, who have suffered because of this war, as well as for the war veterans. All of us need to heal” Yanar Mohammed says.

Investigates humanitarian crisis

But the Right to Heal campaign is not only about seeking reparations for civilians and war veterans – it’s also about investigating wrongdoings of the war. For several years, OWFI has been trying to highlight the humanitarian crisis in the city of Hawijah, where several of the inhabitants have been diagnosed with brain damages, poliomyelitis paralysis and cancer and over 600 babies have been born with disabilities. In a report released in 2011, OWFI claims that a US army base situated in the city is behind these illnesses.

When American anti-war activists came across the report, they contacted Yanar Mohammed and an exchange of ideas and information began. That’s how the Right to heal campaign started.

Today, the campaign consists of OWFI, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. The campaign also has a legal representative, Center for Constitutional Rights, who have filed a case regarding Hawijah to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Prevent future wars

The last part of the campaign is to try to prevent future wars. A delicate task, one might think. But Yanar Mohammed says that she cannot limit herself to defending the Iraqi people only; she wants to prevent sufferings of all people.

“In Iraq, the US government poisoned big parts of the country with white phosphorus. Our mission is to find facts about this so that we can prove that they have used internationally forbidden weapons. We will try to come up with legal grounds that make us able to prevent future American wars in other places around the world” she says.

Karin Råghall


More information on the campaign and interviews with activists can be found in this video clip made by Iraq Veterans Against the War:

Women organization helped bring down trafficking chain in Iraq

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Street view in Baghdad. Photo: Jeff Werner.

Security forces in Iraq have arrested Eman ”Dakhiliya”, who run one of the worse trafficking chains in Baghdad. Her criminal network, involved in sexual slavery, has also been dispersed. This is a huge victory for the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, OWFI, who has campained against her for a long time.

Eman’s nick name”Dakhiliya” means internal and refers to the Ministry of interior. She got it because of her connections with officers inside the Ministry as well as with the police in the area, which have kept her safe for a long time.

Eman’s accomplices kidnapped girls and women to work in her brothels. Women who came in her depth, like those who developed a drug addiction, were forced to sell their organs.

Exposed in report

As early as in 2010, OWFI pointed out Eman in a report on trafficking.

- Her arrest means a lot, even if she isn’t the only trafficker in Baghdad. Her business grew becuase she worked the poorest areas, where many homeless young women live. They were easy prey for Eman, says Yanar Mohammed, president of OWFI.

OFWI has received many threats, especially since the organization’s publication of the 2010 report, in which several traffickers and brothels were exposed.

- Eman and her pimps have threatened to take us to court or to kill us. But we have also, for several years, been criticized by government agents and many of the other women’s NGO’s (Non Governmental Organizations) distanced themselves from us in order to be on the good side of the conservative officials and the population at large, says Yanar Mohammed.

Women organizations important

- The example of Eman ”Dakhiliya” shows what crucial part women organizations like OWFI play, not only for the individual victims, but for the fight against corruption and organized crime. Few have the strength to challenge these criminal gangs, because of the risks it entails. These organizations need support and recognition, says Lena Ag, secretary general of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, a Swedish women’s rights and peace organization working together with OWFI.

Problem since the US invasion

Trafficking in connection with sexual slavery has been a continously growing problem in Iraq, since the US invasion in 2003. The deteriorating safety situation, increased powerty and deficient border inspections have been good growing grounds for traffickers. According to UNHCR more than 1,5 million people are internally displaced, refugees or stateless without safe living conditions.

Women organizations report that young women are being kidnapped, sold by poor families or duped to join the traffickers voluntarily, by promises of a better future. Sexual violence is tabu in Iraq and women don’t dare to speak openly about what they have been subjected to, of fear of becoming outcasts or even get killed. Therefore it is difficult to get any relaible numbers on how many women that are being used for sexual slavery.

New law lacks implementation

A small step towards a change was the signing of an Iraqi anti-trafficking law this spring. The law came into place after several years of lobbying by the Iraqi women’s movement.

- The current law finally treats the trafficked women as victims and not perpetrators, and gives general guidelines onto the state’s responsibility in helping the them to a good life after their painful ordeal. But we are still worried about the implementation since thousands of trafficked women still don’t have any way to seek refuge. They definitely can’t go home as honour killing awaits them, and yet no governmental shelters or group-homes or programs are planned for them, says Yanar Mohammed.

Annika Flensburg/Malin Ekerstedt