Archive for February, 2012
By Rebecca Murray
BAGHDAD, Aug 27, 2011 (IPS) – Rania was 16 years old when officials raped her during Saddam Hussein’s 1991 crackdown in Iraq’s Shia south. “My brothers were sentenced to death, and the price to stop this was to offer my body,” she says.
Cast out for bringing ‘shame’ to her family, Rania ran away to Baghdad and soon fell into living and working in Baghdad’s red light district.
Prostitution and sex trafficking are epidemic in Iraq, where the violence of military occupation and sectarian strife have smashed national institutions, impoverished the population and torn apart families and neighborhoods. Over 100,000 civilians have been killed and an estimated 4.4 million Iraqis displaced since 2003.
“Wars and conflicts, wherever they are fought, invariably usher in sickeningly high level of violence against women and girls,” Amnesty International states.
Rania worked her way up as a sex trafficker’s deputy, collecting money from clients. “If I had four girls, and about 200 clients a day – it could be about 50 clients for each one of them,” she explains.
Sex costs about 100 dollars a session now, Rania says. Many virgin teenage girls are sold for around 5,000 dollars, and trafficked to popular destinations like northern Iraq, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Non-virgins are about half that price.
Girls who run away to escape domestic violence or forced marriage are the most vulnerable prey for men working for pimps in bus stations and taxi stands. Some girls are also sold into marriages by family relatives, only to be handed over to trafficking rings.
Most of Iraq’s sex traffickers are predominantly female, running squalid brothels in neighborhoods like the decrepit Al-Battaween district in central Baghdad.
Six years ago, a raid by U.S. troops on Rania’s brothel brought her nefarious career to an abrupt end. The prostitutes were charged along with everyone else for abetting terrorism.
Imprisonment changed Rania’s life. While she served time in Baghdad’s Al-Kadimiyah lock-up – where more than half the female inmates serve time for prostitution – a local women’s support group befriended her. Today she works for them as an undercover researcher, drawing on her years of experience and connections to infiltrate brothels throughout Iraq.
“I deal with all these pimps and sex traffickers,” Rania says, covered in black, with black, lacquered fingernails and gold bracelets. “I don’t tell them I’m an activist, I tell them I am a sex trafficker. This is the only way for me to get information. If they discover that I’m an activist I get killed.”
In one harrowing experience, Rania and two other girls visited a house in Baghdad’s Al-Jihad district, where girls as young as 16 were held to cater exclusively to the U.S. military. The brothel’s owner told Rania that an Iraqi interpreter employed by the Americans served as the go-between, transporting girls to and from the U.S. airport base.
Rania’s co-workers covertly took photos of the captive teenagers with their mobile phones, but were caught. “One girl went crazy,” Rania recalls. “She accused us of spying. I don’t know how we escaped,” she exclaims. “We had to run away – barefoot!”
Before the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq enjoyed the highest female literacy rate across the Middle East, and more Iraqi women were employed in skilled professions, like medicine and education, than in any other country in the region.
Twenty years later Iraqi women experience a very different reality. Sharia law increasing dominates everyday life, with issues like marriage, divorce and honor crimes implemented outside of the court system, and adherence to state law.
“Many factors combined to promote the rise of sex trafficking and prostitution in the area,” a Norwegian Church Aid report said last year.
“The US-led war and the chaos it has generated; the growing insecurity and lawlessness; corruption of authorities; the upsurge in religious extremism; economic hardship; marriage pressures; gender based violence and recurrent discrimination suffered by women; kidnappings of girls and women; the impunity of perpetrators of crimes, especially those against women; and the development of new technologies associated with the globalization of the sex industry.”
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimates 800,000 humans are trafficked across borders annually, but statistics within Iraq are very difficult to pin down.
Although the Iraqi constitution deems trafficking illegal, there are no criminal laws that effectively prosecute offenders. Perversely, it is often the victims of trafficking and prostitution that are punished.
IOM is currently working with an inter-ministerial panel to lobby for a new reading of the revised counter-trafficking law, which has been stalled by the government since 2009.
“We have reports about trafficking both inside and out of Iraq,” says senior deputy minister, Judge Asghar Al-Musawi, at the Ministry of Migration and Displacement.
“However, I admit that Iraqi government institutions are not mature enough to deal with this topic yet, as the departments are still in their growing phase.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the government has done little to combat the issue. “This is a phenomenon that wasn’t prevalent in 2003,” says HRW researcher, Samer Muscati.
“We don’t have specific statistics. This is the first part to tackle the problem; we need to know how significant and widespread the problem is. This is something the government hasn’t been doing. It hasn’t monitored or cracked down on traffickers, and because of that there is this black hole in terms of information.”
Zeina, 18, is an example of an invisible statistic. According to the local Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), she was 13 when her grandfather sold her to a sex trafficker in Dubai for 6,000 dollars. She performed only oral sex with customers until a wealthy man paid 4,000 dollars to take her virginity for one night.
After four years of prostitution, Zeina finally escaped the United Arab Emirates and returned back to her parents in Baghdad. She approached the authorities and took her grandfather to court. However, Zeina has since disappeared. OWFI has learned she was sold again, this time by her mother to a sex trafficker in Erbil.
OWFI director Yanar Mohammed says her office has been threatened for their advocacy against the lucrative trafficking industry, especially reporting on an infamous brothel owner in Al-Battaween district known as Emam.
“In each house there are almost 45 women and it is such a chaotic scene where women get treated like a cheap meat market,” describes Mohammed. “You step into the house and see women being exploited sexually, even not behind closed doors. So the woman who runs these houses makes an incredible income, and has a crew around her to protect what she does.”
Emam is said to enjoy close ties with the Interior Ministry, and has never had one of her four houses shut down. Despite OWFI’s expose, her operations are unaffected.
Mohammed sighs. “Iraq has a whole generation of women who are in their teens now, whose bodies have been turned into battlefields from criminal ideologies.”
Source: Inter-Press Service.
Aug 30, 2011
Iran has filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in a bid to force Russia to sell it the powerful S-300PMU air-defense system under an $800 contract Moscow abrogated in 2010, citing U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
But Moscow’s move in reneging on the 2007 deal was largely political, and if its relations with the West deteriorate it could decide to deliver the five mobile units it agreed to sell the Iranians.
Much will depend on how important Moscow views its relations with Iran.
Russia has been a key arms supplier to the Islamic republic in the past and is building a nuclear reactor on the Persian Gulf coast at Bushehr, despite repeated U.S. objections.
It’s likely the S-300s could become a major pawn in Russia’s relationship with the United States.
Right now Moscow is looking to the West to help modernize strategic economic sectors, so it’s unlikely it will accede to pressure from Tehran in a legal dispute that could drag on for years.
Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi, said Aug. 24 Tehran rejects the Russian claim that air-defense systems fall under the U.N. sanctions and expects the court to authorize the delivery of the missiles.
Iran made a down payment of $170 million after the contract was signed in December 2007.
Tehran wanted to take delivery of the S-300s as soon as possible because it was concerned at the time that Israel would unleash pre-emptive airstrikes against its nuclear program.
The S-300 is considered one of the world’s most advanced air-defense systems, ranking alongside the all-altitude MIM-104 Patriot system built by the Raytheon Co. of Massachusetts.
It would be a formidable addition to Iranian air defenses around key nuclear installations.
The system, developed by NPO Almaz of Moscow, can engage multiple targets, missiles as well as aircraft, at ranges of more than 100 miles at low and high altitudes.
U.S. military officers said the S-300 would be a “game-changer” for Iran if it ever received the mobile batteries.
At present, the Iranian air-defense system does not have anything remotely as powerful as the S-300.
Israeli aircraft could penetrate without too much trouble, although there would be losses. But with S-300s in place it would be immensely more difficult to knock out any nuclear sites and losses would be much higher.
Russia has sold the S-300PMU to most of the former Soviet republics as well as to China and North Korea.
The United States and Israel pressed Moscow hard not to deliver the missiles to Iran, and this is understood to have influenced Moscow when Tehran demanded the S-300s be delivered.
The U.N. sanctions, imposed in June 2010, supposedly provided a convenient way out for the Russians.
“The promise of the sale to Iran has served as leverage for Moscow in its negotiations with the United States, and Moscow does not want to lose that leverage,” observed U.S. security think tank Stratfor.
“Furthermore, actually delivering the missile systems to Iran would cause a major break in relations between Russia and the West at a time when Russia is looking to the West for assistance, increasing cooperation with the United States and strengthening its relationships with Western European powers.”
As it is, Russia has another reason not to provide Iran with the S-300s: It’s expected to wrap production of the system this year.
Moscow has been replacing its own deployed S-300s with the more advanced S-400 over the past few years.
It’s believed to be ahead of schedule in developing the S-500s system, which could be ready for production by the end of 2012.
But, Stratfor cautioned, if Moscow’s dealings with the West go sour, it would still have stocks of S-300s, including those it will be replacing, to send to Iran if it decided the geopolitical climate had changed.
And it could also use third parties to make the deliveries, as it has in the past to mask politically sensitive arms sales.
“Russia is planning to replace S-300s with S-400s in its allied neighboring countries, like Belarus, Armenia and Kazakhstan,” Stratfor said.
“Any Iranian officials’ visits to such countries could indicate whether Russia is in fact delivering the S-300s to Iran, as Tehran’s ability to acquire the system cannot be ruled out.”
Source: Space War.
Sat Aug 27, 2011
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Ben Abdul Aziz has expressed concerns about the persistence of protests in Jordan in a letter to the country’s King Abdullah II.
“The political development in Jordan will have a negative impact on Saudi Arabia,” wrote the Saudi King in the letter to his Jordanian counterpart, Fars news agency reported.
“The status of Arab countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia are linked together and therefore Saudi Arabia will spare no effort to resolve Jordan’s problems,” the Saudi ruler pledged.
Saudi king’s letter came as protest rallies have been staged across Jordan for the past seven months in efforts to push the government to expand powers of the parliament.
Jordanians have also been demanding lower food prices, a greater participation in politics and the election of a prime minister.
The rise in anti-government protests and mounting political tension in Arab countries such of Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain have worried the US-backed Saudi kingdom and prompted King Abdullah to grant Jordan more than $1.2 billion in financial assistance since the beginning of 2011.
Saudi Arabia has been criticized over its double standards toward anti-government protests in the region. Riyadh has been a strong supporter of opposition groups in Syria, while it has deployed troops in Bahrain to help regime forces crush protesters there.
Mon Aug 29, 2011
Bahraini anti-regime protesters have rejected King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s decision to pardon the demonstrators who were arrested during the country’s popular uprising.
The protesters took to the streets immediately after the king’s televised speech on Sunday, blaming him for the brutal crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations.
King Hamad said in his speech that he would “dismiss charges against some of the detained protesters and allow compensation to prisoners abused by security forces.”
He also promised to reinstate employees and students who have been dismissed for participating in anti-regime protests.
Thousands of employees lost their jobs in punishment for supporting the protests. Some of the students were denied scholarships to study abroad.
The Bahraini king’s remarks come more than six months after his regime launched a Saudi-backed crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.
Meanwhile, a special security court on Sunday resumed the trial of 20 doctors and nurses accused of treating injured anti-government protesters. The court adjourned until September 7, when it will begin hearing defense witnesses.
Thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain have been holding peaceful demonstrations since mid-February, demanding an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty.
Mon Aug 29, 2011
Saudi-backed Bahraini forces have attacked anti-government protesters after the demonstrators took to the streets across the Persian Gulf sheikdom to protest a speech by the Bahraini king.
Thousands of anti-regime protesters took to the streets across Bahrain on Sunday shortly after the country’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa delivered a televised speech calling for national unity in a bid to bring normality back to the country.
The protesters rejected the king’s decision announced by him during his speech to pardon some of the anti-government protesters detained during the popular uprising in the country.
The anti-government protesters also accused the Bahraini king of ordering the brutal crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain, demanding an end to the rule of Al Khalifa dynasty.
Activists said the protests lasted into Monday morning and that regime forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds in several regions including Sitra, where several people were also injured by the forces.
During his Sunday speech, the Bahraini king also said that he would “allow compensation to prisoners abused by security forces.”
The Bahraini ruler promised to reinstate employees and students who were dismissed for taking part in anti-regime protests.
He said, however, that the protest-related trials will continue in the tiny Persian Gulf sheikdom.
King Hamad’s remarks come more than six months after the Manama regime launched a brutal Saudi-backed crackdown on protests, killing scores of demonstrators and injuring hundreds far.
Mon Aug 29, 2011
Egyptian people have gathered in front of the Saudi embassy in the capital city of Cairo to protest Riyadh’s interference in their country’s internal affairs.
Protesters on Sunday held placards and banners against what they called Saudi Arabia’s interference in Egypt, reports said.
The demonstrators proclaimed that Egypt is an independent state, calling on Persian Gulf kingdom to stop its “meddling.”
People also condemned what they called mistreatment of Egyptian workers in Saudi Arabia and slammed Riyadh over its role in developments in Yemen and Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia has deployed hundreds of troops in Bahrain to help crackdown of anti-regime protesters in Manama and other cities.
Meanwhile, thousands of Egyptians once again staged a massive protest outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
Protesters demanded the termination of all ties with Tel Aviv and repeated calls for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
Fri Aug 26, 2011
As people across the world rally in support of Palestinians, thousands of anti-Israel protesters have taken to the streets in several Saudi Arabian cities and mark the International Quds Day.
Protesters in the town of Awamiyah in the al-Qatif region in the eastern province of the Middle Eastern country have burned the Israeli flag on Friday, witnesses said.
Protesters in the eastern city of Qatif have called on all citizens of the city to join the international rally.
Anti-Israeli protesters also voiced their support for the people of Bahrain and condemned their government for aiding the Al Khalifa regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful Bahraini protesters.
Saudi Arabia’s east has been the scene of protests over the past months and authorities have arrested scores of people, including bloggers and writers for taking part in anti-government demonstrations.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 160 dissidents have been arrested since February in the Saudi crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan was declared as the International Quds Day by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, in August 1979.
Millions of people around the world come out on this day to show support for the people of Palestine and to call for an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.