Shades of Bosnia. From the UK-based Middle East Online, Feb. 23:
Allegations of sexual abuse of Sunni women by Shiite forces stirred sectarian tensions in Iraq on Friday, while a US soldier was jailed for 100 years for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.
As President Jalal Talabani tried to calm a political storm building over claims by a 20-year-old woman she was gang-raped by police in Baghdad.
In a late night statement, Talabani called for political leaders to show restraint and to leave the matter in the hands of the legal authorities.
The issue was a hot topic in some Sunni mosques on Friday, where preachers demanded action from Iraq’s leaders to deal with security force abuses.
“You will be asked on Doomsday about the honour of Iraqi women,” declared Sheikh Ali Al-Mashhadani, imam of the Shawaf Mosque in west Baghdad.
“Frankly speaking, I tell the leaders that your leadership of Muslims is in question. If you do not punish criminals in a way that makes them an example, you will find no-one standing beside you,” he warned.
But, while both Sunni and Shiite preachers urged Iraqis not to be further divided by the scandal, some from the majority community accused their rivals of exaggerating the case.
“I wonder why we divide over any crime when committed as if the dispute is between two sects or religions?” asked Shiite cleric Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the central shrine city of Karbala.
“Many brothers fish for isolated events to open the way for division and exaggeration. It is the people who pay for that,” he regretted.
Four Iraqi soldiers have been charged with raping another Sunni woman, said the mayor of Tal Afar in northern Iraq, Brigadier General Najim Abdullah.
He said Thursday he had received a complaint from a local woman, a mother of 11 in her forties, “a few days ago” and after a brief inquiry had referred the troops to the judiciary for prosecution.
The public allegations in a society where even discussing rape is taboo and where victims are sometimes punished by relatives to preserve the “honour” of the family, ignited a firestorm in the Arabic media.
The allegations sparked bitter exchanges between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki — who branded the woman in Baghdad a liar and a criminal — and many of his Sunni critics, undermining support for his new security operation.
“We are astonished by this rush to issue these comments and we want to make it clear that the judicial system is the only body competent to look at this allegation and issue legal redress,” Talabani said.
“The constitution protects the rights of all Iraqis, so we call on everybody to show restraint in their statements and to give a chance for independent justice to run its course,” the president added.
His call was seconded by Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who said that arrest warrants had been issued after one alleged victim — who uses the pseudonym Sandrin al-Janabi — identified her attackers.
Hashemi’s office conducted an initial investigation and has seen to it that the results of medical tests carried out on Janabi by US military doctors had been given to a judge, according to a statement on his website.
US officials have categorically denied releasing the report to anyone other than the woman herself.
The chief of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, meanwhile claimed in an audio tape posted on the Internet that many Iraqis had volunteered for suicide operations to avenge the rape of Janabi.
“More than 300 Iraqis volunteered for martyr operations within 10 hours of the news breaking,” he said, claiming they include 50 members of the Janabi tribe, more than 20 of whom had offered to marry her if she was single.
The authenticity of the tape could not immediately be verified.
Nicole Choueiry, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa press officer, said the issue of rape in Iraqi society was “very contentious.”
“It is very difficult for people to speak about it,” Choueiry said, adding that the rights group was concerned for the safety of women in Iraq.
“We have concerns about the security situation at large,” she said. “We have asked for more protection for women since 2003.”
A US soldier, meanwhile, has been sentenced by a military judge in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to 100 years in prison for his role in the rape and murder of the 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her family.
Sergeant Paul Cortez, 24, admitted he was among five soldiers who plotted the March 2006 rape and murders in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, while they were drinking gin and whiskey and playing cards at a checkpoint.
As in the recent conviction in the Hamdania killings, Sgt. Cortez is basically hapless cannon-fodder who was in way over his head and is being scapegoated for the far greater crimes of the men who ordered him into battle. As we noted when his trial commenced in August—just as Bush was ordering 4,000 more troops to Iraq:
So 4,000 more troops can become so stressed out that they commit atrocities and further swell the ranks of Sadr and other jihadist forces. Good thinking!
Now Bush is ordering 120,000 more troops to Iraq.