Residents of western Baghdad’s al-Salam district say militant groups in the area are hunting down women and killing them, and have petitioned the Iraqi parliament for urgent action. “Over the past six months 15 women were killed in al-Salam neighborhood for religious reasons or because they had criticized the militants, or because of their previous affiliation to the Baath Party,” MP Safia al-Suhail told the UN news agency IRIN.
Al-Suhail, a prominent voice for women’s rights, noted one incident 10 days ago, when gunmen shot dead a woman in front of her house because she had criticized the militants. The next day, when her husband erected a huge tent near his house to receive mourners, the gunmen ordered the husband not to hold funeral rites, and torched the tent.
“We [in parliament] have been receiving such complaints recently,” al-Suhail said. “The problem is that these incidents are being registered against unknown persons, and some families are afraid to report them to the police. We call on government security forces to launch a thorough investigation when people report such incidents and arrest the perpetrators. Those who are behind such crimes must be punished.”
Residents of the Shi’ite neighborhood who spoke on condition of anonymity, said named militiamen in the Mahdi Army loyal to radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr as behind the killings. “They accuse them [the women victims] of different things such as prostitution, or of being informants for Iraqi and US forces, or of not wearing a headscarf or wearing Western clothes,” a resident told IRIN.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry refused to comment on the murders in al-Salam. Government forces, backed by US and British troops, have been fighting the Mahdi Army militia in Basra since late March. The fighting has now spread to all southern provinces and Baghdad. (IRIN, April 23)