leaders and religious fundamentalists, Saddam Hussein introduced Article 111 into the Iraqi penal code. This law exempted men from punishment for the practice of “honor killings,” that is if they killed female relatives who had committed perceived sexual improprieties (even if these women were raped). Some reports suggest that Hussein also allowed the observance of a strict interpretation of shar’ia law, which called for the stoning death of women as a form of punishment for adultery.20
Women under Post-Baathist Iraq (2003- )
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the formation of the Coalition Provision Authority (CPA), the Bush Administration has stated its interest in ensuring that Iraqi women are involved in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. An August 2003 “Fact Sheet” issued by the Department of State indicated that:
The U.S. is committed to helping the Iraqi people transition to a sovereign, representative form of government that respects human rights, rejects terrorism and maintains Iraq’s territorial integrity without threatening its neighbors. We recognize that the women of Iraq have a critical role to play in the revival of their country and we strongly support their efforts. They bring skills and knowledge that will be vital to restoring Iraq to its rightful place in the region and in the world. The U.S. will engage with Iraqi women to secure and advance the gains that they have achieved so far.21
From the start of the occupation, the Administration has indicated that the CPA is working to advance women’s rights in Iraq.22 There has been a widening debate regarding the extent to which the CPA has been able to assist women in Iraq and to incorporate them in the reconstruction effort. Initially, the U.S. invasion, according to some sources, was welcomed by a number of Iraqi women who felt that the U.S. presence provided them an opportunity to have a greater role in the economic and political future of the country.23 Since then, many Iraqis, in general, and Iraqi women, in particular, have been concerned over a volatile security situation which has contributed to a rapid deterioration in their status. According to some observers, this political uncertainty, coupled with a rise in popular religious activism, has called into question the future involvement of Iraqi women in nation building. Within this context, the United States has been dealing with conservative religious forces, in an effort to build local alliances. Some of these groups, particularly among the Shiite religious establishment, favor a more restricted role for women within Iraqi society.
20Winning the Peace Conference Report, op. cit., p. 5.
21“U.S. Policy on Iraqi Women’s Political, Economic, and Social Participation,”August 7, 2003, [http://www.state.gov/g/wi/rls/22492.htm].
22This viewpoint was enunciated, for instance, by Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in an editorial, “Iraqi Women Becoming a Powerful Voice,” Tulsa World, March 21, 2004.
23Sharon Behn, “Iraqi Women Hopeful After Years of Horror,”Washington Times, February 13, 2004.