Interview with Fatma Salih Uthman

Fatma Salih Uthman

<<The true president of Iraq is the American ambassador>>...with this concise statement Fatma Salih Uthman, the spokeswoman for the <<Initiative "The Women accuse">>, right from the first part of this interview she expresses decisively her analyses of the present situation in Mesopotamia. It deals with a position which still hits the spot, considering that Fatma Salih Uthman is Kurdish, and she is of the same ethnic group, therefore as Jalal Talabani, that is of he who at least on paper covers the role of the Iraqi president, who even if he does not really have any main power, given the presence of the foreign troops on the field, above all they are the same ones who in 2003 carried out the illegal attack on the Arab country. Fatma’s testimony is therefore particularly precious for his objectiveness, which is manifested also in criticising a certain management of the power on behalf of the present Kurdish regional government in the North of Iraq, for the way in which it interacts with the local minorities. Originally from Kurdistan under a Turkish sovereignty, Fatma started her duty with the Makhmour Organisation for Human Rights, an association well-known for its involvement, in favour of Kurdish refugees. Due to her activity, Fatma immediately had not few problems of a political nature, so therefore she is a stateless person and she resides in a refugee camp in Iraq, from which she continues however her activity in particular against the sector divisions, against the foreign occupation of Iraq, and in favour of women who have suffered sexual abuse on behalf of American soldiers and Iraqi bands used by the former group. In her duties in favour of human rights, Fatma Salih Uthman has not made any differences in doing all she can in favour of the raped women, both in the case of the Kurdish political prisoners and the Turkish victims of the authoritarianism of the Turkish repression, and in that of the Arab Iraqis. Furthermore, in this interview Fatma takes into consideration future prospects, after the recent elections which in Iraq have seen a clear advantage on the forces contrary to the military presence of the Americans and their allies, hoping for an alliance amongst the parliamentary, political and guerrillas groups, committed to giving a truly free and independent Iraq to the Iraqi people.

Q.) Your movement <<Women charges>> have an important objective in the end of the militay occupation leadered by the Americans: in your opinion, why hasn't the proclaimed passage of the powers to the new Iraqi government been valid? And how do you oppose to the military foreign forces?

A.) It is right; officially the power was handed over to the Iraqi government but the real power is not with the government and the true president of Iraq is the American ambassador. Great parts of the draft for the new constitution were written in Washington. It is still the USA that controls the country military, politically, and economically. The current system was installed by the USA. They have been training the security forces that are terrorizing the Iraqi people. And even when the militia are becoming more powerful from day by day it is the USA that backs them because they fear that otherwise it will lose the support of the Kurdish and Shiite parties that are dominating in the parliament. That is why resistance must be continued in different forms. But resistance does not only mean military force; although this of course is the strongest form of resistance in the long turn civil protest must increase also. It is often criticized that the resistance is concentrating on military force, but this is at least for a part owed to the fact that civil forces have not played their role as they should. The occupiers are do not only control politics and economy but aim to manipulate the new born civil society movement. Therefore it is up to them to emancipate from the grip of foreign influence and find their own way becoming representatives of the Iraqi people. But still many civil society organizations believe that they have not to criticize the occupation, because they are non-political organizations. Otherwise; because they are not linked to special parties they could unite the civil resistance.

Q.) Do you believe to fight the American occupation also with the participation at the elections? For example, with a programm that includes the withdrawal of the troops leadered by George W. Bush, besides with the guer(r)illa and the civil disobediences?

A.)One must understand that the Iraqi resistance is not supported by all parts of the society even when every Iraqi wants the USA to leave the country. After the January elections the leading Kurdish and Shiite parties backed by the USA formed a government that did not serve the Iraqi people but gave parties that have got own militias the opportunity to increase their power. Started with the constitution every decision made in the parliament the government has shown that it has not got any interest in national unity. The government still in charge has never invited powers outside the parliament to a dialogue. This is not only right for the issue of the people in central Iraq but for the entire spectrum of civil society organizations and nationalist forces. That means that great parts of the society were not represented by any power. The logical answer to this situation was the participation of parties on which not only Sunni Arabs ran, but Iraqis who believe in a national solution for the current problems in Iraq. The coming months will show whether these parties will be able to play their role in the parliament as well as outside. Yet they prepared a list of demands as a first step to stop the violence of the militia that has increased during the last months. The presence of new parties in the parliament could also strengthen the influence of nationalist Shiite powers especially of the group of Moqtada Al Sadr. But it is as least of same importance that they increase a dialogue with the military and civil powers outside the parliament.

Q.) Your organization is very active to report sexual violences against Iraqi women, perpetrated by American militaries; how many crimes of this nature did you ascertain?

A.) It is impossible to speak about numbers, because most of the cases of sexual violence do not become public. In an Islamic society of the Middle East it is everything else but easy for a woman to speak about sexual abuse. Sexual violence and rape is still a taboo and therefore the society cannot stand it. With the pamphlet we prepared in the last month we are aiming to break with this taboo. The second reason is that actually the Iraqi women are not only abused by American soldiers but also by Iraqi forces especially by the militias. They have adopted this tactic of special war by the occupiers who have used sexual torture and rape a lot of wars around the world since the Vietnam War. There is no statistics on torture in the secret prisons of the militias, because they do not exist officially but are found everywhere; even schools and the cellars of hospitals have become torture cells. Also the American forces only register the detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and Camp Bucca in Basra. What is happening to women in interrogation centres, secret prisons, and even in their own homes hardly becomes public. So it belongs to women and their families whether a case becomes public. There are of course families who report cases of violence to Iraqi human rights organizations, but they are in the minority.

Q.) You are Kurdish, coming from the portion of Kurdistan under the Turkish, you know well the problem about the sexual abuses against the political prisoners Kurdish and Turkish: according to you, how are the links between the rapes committed by the American occupants and by the Turkish repression?

A.) In Middle Eastern societies sexual violence against women is an instrument to humiliate the whole society. A force that is raping a woman publicly is not committing this crime on the single woman alone, but merely on her family and her clan. This practice has been used in many wars and armed conflicts since the Vietnam War when the attackers are not able to break the resistance by military force. Meanwhile this instrument of special warfare has been exported to countries where the honour of women is one of the strongest pillars of the society what is the case especially in Muslim societies. By the USA this dirty tactic has found entrance in counter insurgence training. This is the parallel in our both countries: security forces are fighting their own population. In the case of Turkey it is the Kurdish population and in the case of Iraq the Sunni population. But also members of political groups that are called ‘enemies; and ‘terrorists’ need not be treated like citizens. They are excluded from the protection of the community and according to this logic are to be treated in the same way as members of an ethnical or cultural group that is fighting for its rights. It is important to understand that these crimes can only be committed on the women of the others who are outlawed in one or the other way. One can see that there are two things needed to carry out extreme violence against women that is against the moral norms of the society; at first it must be a society that bases on a concept of honour that is manifested in the purity of women and secondly the western idea of a national state that defines who belongs to the community and who does not. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk adopted this concept in the foundation of the Turkish state after the down fall of the Ottoman Empire. Kemalism, the leading ideology of the Turkish republic nullifies the rights of any cultural identity but the Turkish. While in Iraq it was the USA that aimed to reorganize the country according to cultural identities with the result that in both of the countries sectarian tensions and ethnical motivated violence has fallen on a fruitful soil. What permitted the violation of women is also the escape from this violence. In a society with tolerance for the other where everybody is not protected by the law in the same way neither rape nor will torture appear.

Q.) You are working especially in in the north of the Iraq, land with a Kurdish majority: how do you relate with the local minorities Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians?

A.) In the momentary situation ethnical minorities have got a life in the regions ruled by the Kurdistan Regional government; neither have independent civil organizations and political parties. This is a situation that must be fought before more blood will be dropped and on the base of this idea we are defending the rights of every minority. We are working for a society that is not built on division putting people into categories but on human values. As women we must understand that we are suffering from the same patriarchal structures, it is our all sons who are sent into the war that causes nothing but suffering; and we must see that we are all victims of a system that believes in force to reach their aims. That is a good base to work for a peaceful society that respects the others.

Q.) What are yours principal successes and what are the most important objectives still to be reached?

A.) Our main success is that we could break the silence that fell on the subject after the crimes of Abu Ghraib were in all news for some few weeks. The media always need new head lines but the sufferings are going on. It is our advantage that we are linked neither to the political system nor to any religious or ethnic group. That we are Kurdish and Muslims does not mean that we are fighting for sectarian aims. It is important now to relate with Kurdish women groups in northern Iraq. They have closed their eyes to what is happening to their sisters often by the support of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia. The leading political apparatus has created an atmosphere of fear that makes it hard to build bridges. What is happening today to the Iraqi women to-morrow may happen to the women in any other country. At the moment we witness how the West is preparing for a strike on Iran, Syria may also be on the agenda at the same time a dirty game was initiated by making cartoons of the prophet Mohammed to provoke and humiliate Muslim people to ‘proof’ their antipathy towards democracy. These fabricated conflicts cause not only unimaginable sufferings on women and children but also destroy an old culture of tolerance for which the Middle East once was famous. Reactionary is the result of foreign invention. It is our dream that one day the people of the Middle East will walk hand and hand towards peace and freedom.
[This article was published on these Italian journals: Comunitarismo, Caserta24ore, Deasport, Avanguardia, Rinascita, Ciaoeuropa, Orion, Corriere di Aversa e Giugliano, Qui Calabria, L'Altra Voce] Interview and translation from English into Italian by

Antonella Ricciardi , 10th February 2006