Dalia (not her real name), 53, lives in Baghdad with her mother and younger sister. She is a homemaker and not currently working because of the situation. In 2005 she left Iraq and lived and worked in Jordan and then the UAE, returning in 2013.
Clarion Project Arabic Associate Anwar al-Iraqi interviewed her about her life and how it has changed with the rise of the Islamic State.
Clarion: Do you consider yourself a religious woman? Does religion affect your life in any way because of the society around you?
Dalia: Absolutely not. I believe in God and I respect the Prophet and the messengers and the righteous ones, but I am not a religious woman. I depend on logic and the mind.
Since I returned in 2013 after being abroad, it affected me in a certain way. I usually wear pants and a shirt with long sleeves and I always have a head scarf in my bag, just in case I need to cover my hair. I used to drive a car, but I sold it due to the fear of being hijacked or blown up and in order to avoid the checkpoints and the choking traffic jams.
There is a difference between between Islam’s religious beliefs and its practices. These practices affect negatively on our lives. For example governmental officials ask me to wear the hijab. I always tell them it’s none of their business and that wearing a hijab doesn’t mean that you’re a good religious person with good morality.
Clarion: How has life changed after the American invasion of 2003?
Dalia: After 2003 everything changed. I used to work for the Iraqi government in various positions and my family was well off. I moved through various positions and was the first woman ever to be hired for a particular highly-challenging job. Then the neighbor who lived next to me for years began asking ‘which party do you belong to,’ ‘which sect do you belong to’ and other questions I didn’t want to answer. I don’t know and I don’t want to know.
Most of our friends left, or they live in places we can’t get to.
The changes were not just security related. They were also social and economic. You can’t live properly unless you are a member of a party or a group or a sector or one of your relatives works in the government or you are among the people who take advantage of the possibilities after the events of 2003.
We didn’t belong to any party or support any particular group against another. We just want to live in peace, respect other people and they respect us. But it is very hard because we are three women living in a constant situation of anxiety.
There is knocking in the early hours of the morning, (5 or 6 am) and we are surprised by people screaming ‘Army. We need to search the house.’ The American army came once and they took all of our details, but now, once a week a new group comes and takes our details.
If we need a doctor, it’s very problematic, because the doctors we used to visit left the area and it’s very hard to trust one of the new doctors. Bottom line, all the utilities and public services are very bad. Often basic foods and medicines are polluted, expired or not fit for consumption
Senior officials are appointed according to how close they are religiously, according to their sect and party. These peoplebring in their own relatives and friends by the same principles.
Clarion: How was your personal life affected by the terror in recent years.
Dalia: My life turned around completely. There is worry and fear, fear of the armed gangs or the forces of the government or militias and mysterious people who wear government uniforms but have no relation to the government. Many innocent people have been kidnapped and are absent, people don’t know who took their children or to where.
Mortar shells fall everywhere and at anytime.
Explosions happen everywhere, even against taxis or public buses, near schools, markets or hospitals. There are firefights between speeding cars and checkpoint guards.
Sometimes when high-ranking officials travel with their convoys in the street, their security people start firing in order to make way.
Clarion: How can we describe the life of women in Iraq?
Dalia: The life of a woman is very bad. We have ignorance and poverty, diseases. The woman is the mother, the sister, the wife and the daughter and raises the next generation.
But what can you expect when the mother is nine years old! If she is hungry she cries, if she has a nightmare, she cries, if she doesn’t find her doll she cries, so how does a man want to marry her? How does he want her to be a housewife? And when he gets sick and tired of her, he just sends her to her family if she doesn’t bring him sons.
Marriages like that are still taking place outside the courts and are usually performed by religious authorities with no official documentation.
We see posters in the street that talk about wearing the hijab, like for example ‘Your beauty is in your hijab.’
Women are also afraid that they will be kidnapped from their homes, course or workplace. Women usually ask themselves in the morning ‘will I be able to get back to the house safely.’ Another thing that can happen is that one of the secret informants might write her name on a list of terror associates. This happens to many women.
One of the people in the government during a TV program told the story of a woman who was imprisoned for five years only because of a piece of paper saying that her son came into the house carrying a black plastic bag and when they raided the house, they didn’t find the youth so they arrested the poor, sick mother.
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