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Part 3

An Interview with Yanar Mohammed of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq

by Bill Weinberg

Yanar Mohammed of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) led the campaign to overturn the measure in the new constitution that would have imposed harsh Taliban-style Sharia law, legalizing honor killings and terror against women. A Toronto-based exile from the Saddam Hussein regime, she returned to Baghdad after the fall of the dictatorship to fight for women's rights under whatever new order would emerge. The campaign against the Sharia measure was a success, but now Yanar is under threat of assassination.

On June 27, Yanar Mohammed spoke at Bluestockings Books on New York's Lower East Side about the civil opposition to the US occupation of Iraq and the imposition of a totalitarian theocracy. The following day, she was interviewed by WW3 REPORT editor Bill Weinberg at the studios of listener-supported WBAI, 99.5 FM. The interview was broadcast on his weekly midnight talk show, the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade,

BW: It's the afternoon of June 28 here in the studios at WBAI, and we are speaking with Yanar Mohammed of Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. Welcome aboard, Yanar.

YM: Hi Bill, how are you?

BW: Could you tell us a bit about the organization, for starters? When it was founded, how many members it has?

YM: Yeah. This organization has been a dream for us Iraqi women who couldn't go back to Iraq during the time of Saddam Hussein. We were abroad, and we were planning all along for a good future for women in Iraq--although many of us were against this war, because we knew that the casualties would be high and that the results would be devastating. Still, we thought it would time for us to go into Iraq and shape the future towards the best for the women in Iraq. That's why we were there in June 2003. It was a few of us women who decided to set up this organization, and now we have 2,000 members, we have offices in many cities, many towns, and we have already set up two shelters for women in Iraq in the last few months, and we do see a very high prospect for us there.

BW: So it was actually founded just about a year ago, then?

YM: Actually it was a couple of months after the fall of the regime. We went inside Iraq as soon as we felt it was safe for us to be inside--because you know for women it was very hard to be inside Iraq in those days.

BW: You had been living in Canada?

YM: Yes, since 1995, working as an architect. But in the last couple of years, with all the drums of war being beaten so hard, you could not focus on your life and your work or anything, so... We had a group by the name of Defense of Iraqi Women's Rights...

BW: Toronto?

YM: In Toronto. Yes, it's a group of us women who have this modern, egalitarian, vision for women in Iraq, and we were waiting for this day to come...

BW: You were born in Baghdad?

YM: I am born in Baghdad, and I've spent most of my life in Baghdad. I had to leave in 1993 because my family was unable to bear the consequences of the economic sanctions, I was unable to feed my child and my husband was taken to the wars, one after the other--it was simply inhuman.

BW: Meaning, drafted into the army?

YM: Exactly, one war after the other. One started by Saddam, the second, imposed by the US administration. And we couldn't see an end to it. The moment that the doors were open and we were able to travel abroad, that's what we did.

BW: And you returned to Iraq in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam, to found the OWFI?

YM: You know what Bill--it's the world that you know, those are the people that you know, and if there's one achievement you can do in life, it would be to better the lives of those who do not deserve these miseries that were forced on them. So, that was the choice, yeah. I didn't hear many voices that wanted to improve the situation of women, or even keep them the way they were, let's say 20 years ago! Although the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was bloody tyranny, women were better off than now, much better off.

BW: And yet the one great success of the OWFI has been overturning the measure in the new constitution which would have instated Sharia law.

YM: Actually, it was a lot of organizations of women on the streets of Baghdad, we were not on our own. There were almost 85 organizations represented in that demonstration against this resolution [March 8]. But because our organization is the most outspoken--it does not compromise with any tradition, or with political Islam or the political parties--because we were in the forefront, that's why we were known as leading that movement denouncing Resolution 137. And it was because of that that I got threats over my life.

BW: We'll speak about that. First, can you talk a bit about what exactly that resolution would have done? If it had been instated?

YM: That resolution would have implemented Islamic Sharia law to override the civil law, and that would have a lot of consequences for the lives of people in general but especially over the lives of women. In Iraq, we had a modern movement that had influenced the civil law, that had forced some changes to laws that were discriminatory against women, and this Sharia law would have canceled everything and taken us back 1,500 years in time, to the times when there was no minimum age for the marriage of women, to the times when multiple marriages of one man to four women were very acceptable, and to the times when all the rights in marriage and divorce were given to men and taken from women. That's something the Iraqi woman will not accept...

BW: ...And honor killings would have been legitimized under law?

YM: Actually, this is something that nobody mentions. The civil law that was current in Iraq since 1990 and until now, it does legitimize honor killings--there is Article 409, Law 111, that gives men the right to kill any female in the family for the mere suspicion that they were honorless, and they would immediately go free on the streets.

BW: This is a Saddam-era law?

YM: Exactly.

BW: Which is still sort of in effect? Or is that unclear?

YM: Yes, because there is no other law yet. So the courts are still functioning according to this law until another one gets written.

BW: But now a new civil code is being written right now...

YM: Well, there is a transitional constitution, and to our surprise it is also mainly based on Islamic Sharia. This constitution is based mostly upon the Shi'ite religious rules, which is angering the Sunnis. For example, Resolution 137 was based on Shi'ite rules in marriage and in divorce... I find it very upsetting that the US administration would instate something like this, because it tells the outer world that we are just being identified according to our religions--Muslim Sunni, Muslim Shi'ite, Christian, Assyrian... It does not tell the world that we are a society of conflicting political tendencies, there is the progressive, there is the conservative; among the progressives you have all the colors of the spectrum, among the conservatives you have the religious, you have the nationalists--that's the Iraqi society! We are not just Muslims or Christians, and this division wouldn't be acceptable here in the US. So we must accept it in Iraq? Is this what we are getting from this democracy that's coming to us in Iraq? This is outrageous.

BW: So even though this measure was defeated, the new constitution is still based in Sharia law?

YM: Bill, people would think that Iraqis are directly represented in these decision-making councils, but it is absolutely the other way around. These councils are made of individuals of ethnocentric positions, of religious positions. They come from these political parties that politicize religion to gain power and oppress people--just like what happened in Islamic Republic of Iran. So if the Iraqi Governing Council was made of these figures, and these same figures were forwarded to the new Iraqi government--how do they represent Iraqi people? No way do they represent Iraqi people! We should be equal citizens, and we should be afforded equal opportunities to all the seats on these governing councils according to our Iraqi citizenship. No differences based upon ethnicities, nor based upon religions, or especially upon gender.

BW: Currently, the seats on the council are divided up according to the religious and ethnic factions...

YM: Yes. For example, the Iraqi Communist Party got a seat on the Governing Council, but the farce is that the seat was given to this guy because he was a Shi'ite!

BW: Right, he's sitting there as a Shi'ite, even though he's with the Communist Party.

YM: Yes, and this is shameful for a Marxist...

BW: It seems slightly ironic...

YM: It's shameful, too.

BW: OK, but even now that measure 137 was overturned, the constitution is still, to some degree, rooted in Sharia? Could you explain how that works?

YM: The first answer that you would get from any official is that the country is made of 97% Muslims... Although this number I do doubt, because they are trying to reduce the number of Christians and other religions in Iraq. And for example, myself--I'm a Muslim on my ID, but I think of myself as secular woman who wants to see a modern life for everybody in Iraq, and a constitution under which everybody is equal to each other.

BW: So there's actual religious classification of citizenship, your ID says that you're a Muslim...

YM: Exactly!

BW: Now, this is Saddam-era ID, or the new ID?

YM: All along, religions were written on our IDs. I don't want to give credit to Saddam, because he was a bloody dictator, and whatever good was in the constitution came before Saddam under the pressure of progressive movements. But even under Saddam, the constitution did not [initially] differentiate between people of different religions. The discrimination came later--first by Saddam himself, in the last decade when he was discriminating against everybody. Shi'ites faced persecution, and the Kurds, 180,000 of them were killed in genocide. So why should we further this tradition of dividing people by religion? I can only see it as a time bomb, as a potential scenario for a civil war. I do not see any other purpose for imposing such a political agenda over the Iraqi people. And unfortunately, since day number one of this American invasion, this was the political agenda--let's divide you into these religious groups, and ethnicities, and see how much of the pie we can give each of you, and see you fight among each other. And you know what? It is working.

BW: It's sort of a continuation of the Saddam policy, then?

YM: It is, it is. And you wonder how many human rights abuses were the same under Saddam and in this present era. The unlawful detainments, the torture of prisoners, the oppression of women--although now that is even more. The unwillingness to listen to the citizens--that tops it all. We hear these decisions coming over the TV and nobody was asked about these decisions. How were they were made? Only a few individuals that were hand-picked by the US administration--those individuals who totally supported 13 years of economic sanctions, policies of starving millions of Iraqi people, policies of war, destruction, murder and torture--those are the ones who are put in the government now. Are those the ones that represent us? It is outrageous.


BW: Can you talk about the death threats which you've received since the campaign to overturn the Sharia measure?

YM: Most of the time since the fall of the regime I've been there in Iraq, and all the people visiting my office encourage me, they tell me that the vision I have for women in Iraq and for society is the one that they want to see. But, you know what? This American occupation has attracted dark forces from all over, they've come from many distant countries, with one agenda in mind, to go and fight this American enemy. And we do not call them any other word--it's political Islam. And for them it is justified to kill a lot of Iraqis in order to kill one American soldier. They want to impose an agenda that will turn us into a Taliban, and we find ourselves in this situation where whatever political activity we do is being watched carefully by these forces.

So when I denounced Resolution 137 over the TV, and they put on the interview three times that day, and I was also over international foreign media--that day some of these groups got angered and they sent me this e-mail that was titled "Killing Yanar within days." I read the title, it's in Arabic--[speaks Arabic]--and I thought I read something wrong, I had to read it five times to believe my eyes. You are a political activist, a woman activist, you are back in your country to bring about a better situation for women... Why do these people want to kill me? I was in an internet cafe, and I read these lines...

BW: They called you an "apostate"--was that the word?

YM: Exactly, and they said that I should stop spreading my psychologically disturbed complexes, otherwise they will have to kill me within days, and it seems they were proud to put a signature on it--the Army of the Prophet's Companions, I think that's it. So, I just got frozen, and the five minutes I walked from that internet cafe to my office were the hardest and longest five minutes in my life.

BW: I'll bet.

YM: People want to see you dead. Just because you have a political vision of human rights. How good can that be in a liberated Iraq? That was not the only death threat that I got. After a couple of weeks, when they made sure I was not stopping my activities, they sent another e-mail. This time they accused me of collaborating with people like Ahmed Chalabi, with Jalal Talabani, with the Americans--although all of these, in all our announcements we were against them. They told me that these people will not be of any help for me, and they will send a Mujahedd with an explosive belt to explode me...

BW: And this also came by internet?

YM: Yeah, these guys are very technical. They threatened that they will explode me and the prostitutes around me, where-ever we go, and that my movements are being watched closely. The timing of that was almost a couple of weeks before International Women's Day. They may have had that in mind, that this day should not be celebrated in Iraq.

BW: And you did in fact consider leaving Iraq and going back to Canada after that, but ultimately you decided not to, but to stay.

YM: Well, I'm only human, Bill

BW: Yes, yes

YM: At one point I did have my stuff ready. I felt very weak, I went back and forth many times. Then I said, well, if we are leaving, they are staying, and it will be a black swamp where women cannot bring their heads up to breathe. Is that the future I want to see for women in Iraq? No, I don't think so. So, the car was ready, but I said: "No, sorry, I'm staying."

BW: And now the Worker Communist Party of Iraq is providing bodyguards for you, when you're in the country?

YM: When I got the death threat, I met with them because of their strong support of all that we do inside Iraq. They told me, don't worry, all the bodyguards that you need will be volunteering to protect you, more than happy to protect you, because for us the agenda of equality between women and men is a priority that we will not let go. We are unlike the other leftist groups who have let go of the women's issue. For us it is a main priority, because society cannot rise if half of it is paralyzed.

BW: And we should clarify that this is the Worker Communist Party of Iraq as opposed to the Communist Party of Iraq; and the Worker Communist Party is in opposition and the Communist Party actually has a seat on the Governing Council.

YM: And this opposition has thousands of members, and tens of thousands of supporters. And it's a well-known fact in the streets of Baghdad and other cities, if you have any problem that you need to solve, at your workplace or in your educational facility, or as woman, a problem that nobody wants to look into--go to OWFI or to the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, and they will find ways of solving your problems for you.

BW: You've said that a secular government is your main demand, that before you're going to push the agenda of socialism, the first minimum demand is really a secular government.

YM: Well, we are in such a dark scenario, of invasion and the failure of all the civil institutions, and we are vulnerable to old reactionary movements. So we unify even with people who are religious, but don't want to see a theocracy rule them. We want the minimum platform that can join us all together and will guarantee the welfare of the people of Iraq. So secular government is the immediate thing, where the seats are not tailored upon your ethnicity, upon your religion, upon your gender.

BW: OK, but the general question is a bit different, because I presume you would want some kind of gender balance on the Governing Council...

YM: Well, the best they could come up with was a 25% quota for women--we all know that the women of Iraq are 60% of the population because of the consecutive wars, so with the 25% resolution they immediately took away the right of 35% of society to be represented. I don't find it a very progressive resolution.

A quota for women is a good thing, having them on political councils is a very justified demand, but for us, it's not the main one. The main one is a constitution that is secular, not based on religion, and based on equality between women and men.

BW: You've raised the specter of some kind of Taliban, as you put it, coming to power in Iraq. This would be the ultimate irony of the US intervention, given the US also intervened against the Taliban in Afghanistan...

YM: You know these long beards that go out of control, they grow so long that they look weird for any modern person...? We have not seen those in Iraq for the last decades! Why do we see them now? And this year--I want an answer to this question--why in the city of Fallujah are we beginning to hear of a community group that is cutting off the fingers of people who steal, and imposing some parts of the Sharia that are unheard of inside Iraq? Why did all of this happen this year? Because of this occupation over Iraq. They turned us into this battlefield between the two poles of terrorism. One is the terrorism that comes from the biggest arsenal in the world, and the other is this newly set-up Islamist terrorism that has one agenda of destroying the Americans wherever they are and whatever the price. And it happens that this time the price is the Iraqi people.


BW: Can you speak about the women's shelters you've established in Baghdad?

YM: The idea of honor killing in Iraq may be new to some people. If a woman is considered to be doing something that is not virtue--in other words, if she has a love affair that is not allowed under Islamic law, or even if a woman gets raped--this is considered as something that touches upon the honor of the family and the tribe...

BW: ...and under these circumstances women can be killed...

YM: HAVE to be killed, so the honor of the tribe is restored. This is the tribal mentality that has to leave Iraq. In the '60s and '70s, the women's groups were able to bring some progressive changes and honor killings were becoming less frequent. But under the economic sanctions and poverty and the isolation from the outer world, they became more and more [frequent again]. Honor is still a very important issue; for a woman to be threatened by an honor killing in Iraq is a taboo that families do not speak about--the woman is killed immediately, with no-one to help.

So for that woman to be told that she is strong, she is equal to a man, she is a full human being that has rights--it is nonsense! If you don't have the alternative for her, just don't speak about women's rights. We saw that as an organization, that is the first thing we need to set up in Iraq. So we contacted all our friends inside and outside Iraq--and here I would like to give special thanks to our women friends in the US who collected some money and made this project possible. It was because of their support for us that many women are able to keep their lives.

There are other shelters in the Kurdish part of Iraq, which was freed from Saddam's authority for quite some time, but I don't think will you find anyone that's threatened with honor killing--where the whole family will come, the tribe will come, with machine guns in their hands. Who will be willing to defend that woman? Not many.

BW: So yours are the only shelters in Baghdad?

YM: One of them is in Baghdad, the other is in Kirkuk. Since the fall of the regime we started these shelters as secret rooms at un-announced addresses. Our activists in Kirkuk and Baghdad kept [threatened] women in their houses, but it is only now that we are able to rent houses, turn them into real women's shelters. We are hopeful that we will get much more funding in order to create a decent alternative for the women who have been waiting for it for such a long time.

BW: What kind of security measures are taken? These are clandestine locations, how do women who need them find out about them?

YM: The first means is the OWFI newspaper, Al-Mousawat, which means Equality. Every issue we have a page about women's abuse, stories of honor killings and so on, and on that page we make it very clear that this is our telephone number, call us, we'll come and get you! We will make sure that you are safe.

This is one level. The other level is that for a woman's group, in order to function inside a country as chaotic and dangerous as Iraq, it would be pointless to be working on your own--the best thing is to cooperate with the political party that has women on top of its agenda. So the Worker Communist Party is helping us all the way along, providing us with protection, and--well, sorry to say it, the guns also.

BW: For your bodyguards?

YM: To protect the shelter, to protect the organization, and also for our bodyguards. So that's the way for us to function. We need a political body to lean on that believes in us. And when the time comes, we will work together to make the women's issue a very important part of the coming councils in Iraq.

BW: And how many women are in your shelter system now?

YM: Well it is a changing number... It is less than 10 now, and part of the reason is because under the culture of fear, not many people are acquainted with the idea of a shelter that saves women from honor killing. So we are still facing difficulty in getting these women in our shelters.

This is a sad story that I don't tell many people, but two women in the last six months were looking for us. One of them was able to reach our organization and she was six months pregnant, she wanted to have an abortion. We told her we cannot do that, but could give her some protection. But she was too scared and she did not stay. You know, all of it sounded so weird to her, she had never in her life heard of a woman's shelter. And there was this other woman, who was also in a similar situation. We made an appointment with her to take her to the shelter, but unfortunately it was too late--she was killed by all the males in her family, and they used machine guns. Her body was chopped into pieces and put into a bag, and it was carried and dumped in a dump-yard, because she was honorless.... That's how ugly patriarchal values can get...

BW: This was in Baghdad?

YM: This was in Baghdad.

BW: This year?

YM: It happened in March. And it was only a difference of a few days. This woman could have been with us now.

I would like to tell you about Solzan, a woman in our shelter. She likes to wear jeans, tight t-shirts, she's a very smart woman, she likes to be a woman activist, she helped us on our International Women's Day event. And I sat with her and asked her, what are your aspirations, what do you wish to be in life? She looks at me and she says, "Yanar, I won't settle for anything less than you! I'm gonna be speaking English just like you, I'm gonna be as strong as you, and I'm going to school to do it!" I told her, good for you! We're gonna find you a night school, we're gonna enroll you, and do you want university after that? She says, definitely! So you know, Bill, there are some success stories as opposed to these tragic stories. Our vision is to make the success stories the future for us in Iraq.

BW: Abortion is illegal in Iraq? And was that also the case under Saddam?

YM: It was illegal. If you presented a health case it was permissible, but it was [generally] illegal. Unfortunately, that didn't mean it didn't happen. Just as in most countries, you make it illegal, women lose their lives. But we think a woman should be in control of her future, she should decide how many children she has, and birth control and abortion should be legalized immediately!

BW: Birth control is not available?

YM: Birth control--well, if the Islamists prevail it will be...

BW: Right, but currently you can buy condoms and whatnot in Iraq, no? In Baghdad at least?

YM: In Baghdad things are changing. For example, alcohol stores are being exploded by Islamists, and movie theaters are being exploded, and salons where women make their hair are also being exploded... So birth control is available for the time being, but it may not be if they prevail.

BW: The status of abortion is unchanged from Saddam's day?

YM: Things are deteriorating now, so if you were expecting it would be legalized all of the sudden...

BW: No, no no!


BW: When did you launch the newspaper, Al-Mousawat?

YM: Al-Mousawat was launched with the beginning of the war on Iraq. I was not inside Iraq, I launched it from Canada. It was a dream for me to be able to address millions of women inside Iraq. And by the time I got into Iraq, some people who had read it found it unbelievable for an Iraqi woman to be so brave as to be confronting the political Islam groups. We have a special page in our paper, it's page number seven. We call it "Freedoms Unleashed by the American Occupation--the Freedoms of Political Islam"--and we show what they do to women, we show the revival of these rituals, where they cause self-inflicted wounds, blood coming all over their bodies...

BW: You mean, as in the Shi'ite pilgrimage at Karbala?

YM: Yes, exactly. And you know what? After the fall of Saddam, the first pilgrimage had a big number of people, I hear it had something like half a million...

BW: The Ashura celebrations in Karbala last year?

YM: Exactly. And, it was as a reaction against Saddam's not allowing it to happen for all of those decades..

BW: Right, of course...

YM: But after one year of having a feel of what it is like to live in areas where you are dominated by the Islamist political parties, you know what happened this year? Al-Jazeera TV was pumping everybody that we're gonna have these tremendous celebrations, this tremendous pilgrimage--but all the footage that they were able to show on television had 1,500 people in it, and they showed it only for two or three seconds and it was cut. Because it was a major embarrassment for them that the people in Iraq aren't all that willing to live under a theocracy, and they are not celebrating these events.

BW: In one year it went from half a million to participants to 1,500? That's quite dramatic!

YM: Well, you know, they say that 70% of Iraq are Shi'ites, and on their ID they are. But one of those IDs is mine! In real life, I would say half of those Shi'ites are secular.

BW: Right.

YM: So why does the US administration insist on using that figure of 70%?

BW: You tell me--why?

YM: Because when you occupy a country, when you want full control over the working class, when you don't want any opposition to the political agenda of privatization, and all sorts of controls that you are putting over the people, that is the best way. You bring religious powers. You make sure that they don't act against you in terrorist acts, but you keep them there to control everything and keep people years away from modernity. And that's what they are doing.

BW: What is the current circulation of your newspaper, Al-Mousawat?

YM: Unfortunately it's very low, because our budget isn't that high, it's at 10,000. But I hear that one newspaper turns from the hand of one woman to 20 women, and sometimes they are sitting in circles and discussing what's happening there, and I'm getting major responses. And believe it or not, it's not only from women, it's from men who tell me that this is not the situation where they want to see their wives and their sisters, that they want to see an egalitarian society protecting women and respecting them.

BW: There was some litigation, an attempt through the court system, to shut down the paper?

YM: In our third issue I had written this column that described the way that they make women leave the house. I said, why do these mullahs insist that we leave our homes wearing dresses looking like astronauts in space-suits, do our skins emit some nuclear energy that will kill humanity? Are we that evil as women? We cannot be that dangerous! So it seems this guy who read this column could not see the humor in it, and he said that I hurt his religious feelings, and that I would need to pay him the equivalent of $5,000.

BW: Goodness!

YM: I guess that was the price of hurt religious feelings.

BW: So how was this resolved?

YM: The judge in the court was laughing at the issue and he told my lawyer not to worry at all. I had the immediate support of 30 lawyers and intellectuals, they said they would be willing to do anything to work against this case. Finally, my lawyer--and he's also from the Worker Communist Party of Iraq--he said that he would charge him with the death threats against me.

BW: So, he's not pursuing it at this point.

YM: Not yet!

BW: Good. And, similarly, there was an effort to censor you in your television interview, you mentioned. The Islamists in the TV station threatened to cut power...

YM: There's a nice story to this. I met this producer from the local Iraqi TV who does a show was called "She," for women. He told me, "Yanar, I have this conflict, my daughter is a freedom-loving girl, and I love her so very much, while my wife has the veil on, she is trying to oppress my daughter. I want my daughter to see over the TV, to see something that will give her strength to be what she is." But he warned me, "do not be hard over the political Islam issue, otherwise I may lose my job." So I told him, OK, I'll do the best I can. And I spoke to women, like, from the heart--"Do you want to be strong? Do you want to be a decision-maker for the future of Iraq? Do you think you are a full human being? Or are you ashamed of your appearance? So why do you cover yourself with these things? You should know this package is the beginning of slavery, the next step is to be denied work, the next one is denied education, and all of the sudden your husband is marrying three other wives! Do you want to be there?." And I didn't know that in the technical rooms there were some technicians who had unplugged their computers and were knocking on the door to fight with the producer. They told him, "What have you brought us, what is this woman? We need to get rid of her immediately!" And at the same time, the woman technicians came running--they said, "We want to meet this woman! We want to have her newspaper! Finally, somebody is talking on behalf of us!" So it was quite a controversy. But I didn't know it until later on, because the producer took me out by another door and he told me, "Look Yanar, very big things happened in those technical rooms, I'll tell you on the way--I got the videotape, I'm gonna edit it at home and try to pass it behind the censorship so I can have it on TV!"

BW: And it was broadcast.

YM: It was broadcast twice. And many women were happy to hear it, I got lots of responses.

BW: And in spite of the threats against you, in fact you did march on March 8, International Women's Day.

YM: Exactly. Iraq is our place, we are not leaving it for them to terrorize, to decide the future for us. And March 8 holds a very high importance. It is symbolic of all the sufferings all over the world, how there is a big solidarity between these struggles, to work for better days. We said, we are not staying home that day, we are coming to this celebration! And that was one of the most dangerous weeks, because some mosques were bombed and different Islamic factions were fighting among each other. Still, these women and men, almost 1,000 of them, showed up in that square. I would say, 900 of them were women, with all their children, marching and carrying our poster that was the symbol of the first International Women's Day event in Baghdad after the fall of the regime. It was a smashing success for us.

BW: And under Saddam, what was the status of that day?

YM: Saddam had changed the Women's Day from that day to another day, I think it was March 5 if I'm not mistaken. And he made sure it was controlled by his women's organization, the General Union for Women in Iraq--that was working totally against the rights of women. And to give an example of that, in the year 2000, Saddam led an Islamization campaign that featured the killing of prostitutes in Baghdad and also in Mosul, and they killed almost 200 women. Very ugly killing, I don't want to go into the details of that. Very ugly killing. And who forwarded those names for Saddam? It was the General Union for Women in Iraq!

BW: Oh my goodness!

YM: So I say in answer to some feminists who tell me that having a woman in a governing council would solve all the problems for women... I say no! Just the mere fact of your gender doesn't mean that you will work for the women's cause... It's whether you're progressive or not. And we know that its the socialists who are for the woman's cause in Iraq--all the nationalist groups and religious groups are against women's rights.


BW: What is the ethnic background of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq? I understand they're not an ethnically-identified organization, but most of their members are from a particular ethnic or religious group, or not?

YM: We do get asked that question a lot, because people would like to classify you according which part of the political pie you are sitting on. Our answer is that we do not believe in these differences based on ethnicities. This party was formed in Iraq after the first Gulf War, as a reaction to the first step in what we call the New World Order, which established the domination of American capitalism and its bourgeoisie over all the other bourgeoisie... We were reacting to this war, and we were also benefiting from some of the experiences of our Iranian leftist colleagues, that had a very long march in the communist movement. There is this leader, Mansoor Hekmat [late founder of the Worker Communist Party of Iran], who had written tremendous writings, who had a vision...

BW: In Iran?

YM: Well, for most of his life. For part of his life he lived in exile, in England. But he had founded the party in Iran, and then he came to Iraq and helped us found our party... We benefited from his political vision a lot, especially because he had been under the rule of the Islamic Republic for such a long time. So we could foresee what could come to us--the twin threats of the political Islam movement and the New World Order under the Americans. That was in 1993, and it was based in Kurdistan, in the north or Iraq, because in that area there was some relative freedom. So because that was the party's geographical base, most of the members came from that part of the world. But others, including myself--I'm from Baghdad, and I was introduced to the ideas of this party when I was abroad. And I saw how it addresses women's rights, and at the same time does not compromise the issue of exploitation of workers; it heads for workers' rule, it heads for a socialist revolution, but it does not let go of the daily reform that you work on in order to better people's lives. Because in case your socialist revolution does not happen, are you doing nothing? I don't think so! I don't want to be part of a utopian group, I want to see women's situation get better, and immediately! So that's why I thought, Yanar, that's where you will be working, let's see how much support they give to women's rights... This was many years back. Now I'm a leading member of the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, and with no hesitancy I promote it for all the women.

BW: Not to overemphasize this issue, but you would say today it still has a large membership base among Kurds, but also includes Arabs...

YM: Actually, it's beginning to get balanced. Our presence in--well, we call it the center and the south in Iraq, we would rather not call it Arab versus Kurdish areas, because we do not want to emphasize these differences. In the center and the south we are relatively new. We had a few members under Saddam, but they were under a lot of discrimination and they faced imprisonment many times. So in the center and the south our numbers are in thousands now. It's hard for me to tell you exactly how many thousands because it is growing very fast. And our active supporters I would say are in the tens of thousands. But most of the politically-aware people in Iraq tell us that we are the only political party that has the guts to stand in front of the dark forces and look them in the eye and tell them they have no place in the political future of Iraq. And, you know, it's the only party that speaks about women.

BW: So you still have more followers in the north ...

YM: Yes, although even in the north, the nationalist Kurdish parties banned our Workers Communist Party for a certain periods. Believe it or not, even in the so-called free part of Iraq, they banned our political activities and at some point even killed a few of our members and forced us to flee certain cities. And in the center and the south our membership and numbers are now rising very quickly.

BW: You consider the new government to be illegitimate?

YM: A government that comes as a result of US policies of starving millions in Iraq and destroying their cities, of murder and torture in the prisons--this government only represents the interests of the US administration, and does not represent us in any way. They are illegitimate, and we will do anything possible, we will demonstrate in order to force them to resign from their positions.

BW: In favor of what?

YM: In favor of a secular government, where there is immediate representation for people. Nobody asked us what we want--and when I say "us", this includes millions of people. They have no right to impose on us their own governments. The times of colonialism are over! Iraq has very qualified people to be in full control of things.

BW: And yet you also reject most of the actual armed resistance as illegitimate as well...

YM: The armed resistance is another kind of terrorism. It is turning our lives into hell, and they do not care how many Iraqi people they kill. They have this religious agenda they impose on us, and they come from abroad. Of course, we are internationalists, we do not hold these nationalist grudges against others. But these political Islam groups bring only a vision of death and destruction and oppression, of another Taliban future for us in Iraq.

BW: Well, given that you're sort of caught between these two poles of terrorism, as you put it, how do you see some kind of peaceful transition to a legitimate, secular government?

YM: We need to see the immediate leaving of US troops from Iraq because they are the honey that is attracting all these bears from all over the world. That is the first thing we need to do. The US troops need to leave immediately, they need to be replaced by multi-national forces that impose no political agenda on us. There should be an atmosphere of political freedom and equal access for all groups to reach these governing councils.


BW: Perhaps we could wrap up by saying a few words about how people in the west can try to loan some solidarity. And what's been your experience with the anti-war forces here in the west, both in Canada and the United States?

YM: The anti-war forces are of many kinds. The most dominating ones, which I would call the traditional left--unfortunately, they prefer to ally with political Islam forces, because they are anti-American, because they are anti-imperialist, and they don't care what kind of hell they have created for us in Iraq. So in other words, the traditional left here in the west let us down. They don't want to hear the secular voices in Iraq! And they don't want to recognize us as a credible group, they have blacklisted me in many of their demonstrations...

BW: In Canada, or here?

YM: Canada. I'm not sure if it was done here. But I was called to speak at a demonstration in Washington, and at the last minute, they changed their minds. I think that was the reason...

BW: Which demonstration was this? Was it the one last October?

YM: It was. There are many individuals, and some groups, that are fully supporting us, especially here in New York. And the women's groups I find very good, they would not compromise the women's issue for anything--not for tradition or religion or anti-imperialism or anti-Americanism. So, we thank those who supported us here, we thank the support committee for OWFI here in New York. We also thank the many individuals here that supported our shelter in Iraq, like the V-Day group.

BW: V-Day?

YM: V-Day, Vagina Warriors. Their Eve Ensler played a very good role with us, and also the MADRE group. And you know what? There are many individuals who are approaching us who want to see this other alternative in Iraq, and if they support us, there will be this other future in Iraq.

BW: How can supporters contact you?

YM: The e-mail address of OWFI can be found through our website and our support group here in New York, Solidarity with OWFI, can be reached through their e-mail, which is

BW: Yanar Mohammed, thank you so much for joining us on WBAI, and best of luck.

YM: Thank you.


Transcription: Sarah Falkner

Thanks to: Jennifer Fasulo, Solidarity with the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq

See also WW3 REPORT #98:

Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, August 9, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.