THE CIVIL OPPOSITION IN IRAQ
An Interview with Yanar Mohammed of the Organization of Women's Freedom in
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
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
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: ...in 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
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?
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
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...
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.
UNDER THREAT OF DEATH
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
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
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
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.
WOMEN'S SHELTERS ESTABLISHED
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
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!
FREE SPEECH STRUGGLE
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
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.
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
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.
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.
FIRST DEMAND: A SECULAR STATE
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
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
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.
SOLIDARITY EFFORTS IN THE WEST
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.
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
www.equalityiniraq.com 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