Democracy in Iraq will not be fully realized without adherence to principles such as the protection of individual liberty and the rule of law. Achieving basic human rights for Iraqi women is a key to Iraq’s political development and the success of democratic institutions in the country. The Independent Women’s Forum urges the global community to support the full social, economic and political participation of women in Iraq. -Michelle Bernard, IWF senior fellow, 10/18/04

Women Fleeing College under Islamist Threats
by Paul Martin, 10/17/2004

Islamist extremists are targeting the city’s universities by threatening and even attacking female students who wear Western-style fashions, setting off bombs on campuses and demanding that classes be segregated by sex.

At least 1,000 of an estimated 3,000 women who want to postpone their studies for fear of violence will be granted leaves of absence, a student affairs official here said.

Guards at al-Kindi University in Baghdad last week arrested a man carrying nearly 10 pounds of TNT in a bag.

“The terrorist admitted that he belongs to an Islamic group,” university security chief Sameer al-Sumaidai said.

“When we asked him about the one who sent him, he replied, ‘It is God who sends me.'”

Pamphlets found on campus declared: “If the boy students don’t separate from the girl students, we will explode the college. Any girl student who does not wear a veil, we will burn her face with chemicals.”

At Mustansiriya University, a bomb exploded earlier this month in the college of sciences, injuring two students, one seriously.

The explosion occurred shortly after pamphlets also appeared on that campus demanding that men and women students be separated and that women abandon Western clothing and cover their heads when in public.

Two days later, student Rana Fuad was abducted as she was leaving the campus. Within an hour, the young woman, still dressed in blue jeans, was found unconscious at the college gate.

Miss Fuad stopped going to classes and refuses to talk to the press.

“Rana is in bad psychological condition,” friend Sheatheh Ahmed said. “She was kidnapped by three masked men who told her they would burn her face with chemicals if she puts on such clothes again, and that this was her last chance.”

The campaign of intimidation already is leading to an exodus of students from campuses.

“According to the reports of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, 3,000 women students want to postpone their studies for this academic year because of the lack of security and the threats,” said Ali Abdul Zahra, the official in charge of student affairs in Baghdad.

He said the ministry will approve leaves of absence for at least 1,000 women.

Some female students feel obliged to wear the veil when going to and from school for fear they will be identified and targeted by terrorists watching outside the gates.

Even non-Muslim women, who are not normally expected to cover their heads in a strict Islamic society, do not escape the threats, students said.

Vian Kiryakus, a Christian electrical-engineering student at Baghdad University, wears a veil outside the college when waiting for her father to give her a ride home.

“I have no choice but to wear the veil; the terrorists keep watching and targeting the unveiled girl students,” Miss Vian said.

“The terrorists get more powerful day by day,” said Fadwa, a Christian chemical-sciences student at Baghdad University who asked to be identified only by a single name. “They can put their threats into practice. I’m afraid of them because I know what they mean by ‘chemical liquid.’ ”

The threats and attacks are causing resentment even among female students who already wear the veil out of religious conviction.

They say that whether to wear the veil should be a choice, not enforced by compulsion or fear.

Rasha Yaqoob, a Muslim and an engineering student at Baghdad University, has for seven years chosen to wear the veil.

“It in uncivilized to impose wearing veils on the girls; it is anti-women’s rights and undermines their role in leading the Iraqi society,” she said.

Said another engineering student who also wears a veil: “These [terrorist] elements are foreigners from Syria and Jordan. Why don’t they apply these rules in their countries, where corruption and improper fashions are prevailing?”