Iraqi Feminists Join Street Protests

Editors’ note: The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has hit the streets to ensure that women are a visible presence in the Friday anti-corruption protests inspired by Egypt’s revolution. Of the March 4 protests, OWFI President Yanar Mohammed writes to Ms.:

The women of our organization insist to participate in the national struggle of Iraqi people for rights and freedoms, and therefore will be there in the Tahrir Square of Baghdad tomorrow morning. Hoping we do not get shot at this time.

Read her account of last week’s protest:

Last Friday, February 25, was a historic day in Iraq. The revolution earthquakes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya sent shockwaves in our direction.

The main squares of most Iraqi cities were filled with protesters demanding electricity, employment, an end to governmental corruption and general freedoms.

Although the government announced a curfew and closed all streets to vehicular movement, and the highest religious clerics discouraged the people from protesting, almost 70,000 people gathered in the main squares in all of Iraq, united around common demands.

For the first time in eight years, the demonstration united people of different religions, ethnicities, sects and political affiliations to denounce the extreme and continuous corruption, and demand a share of the country’s resources from oil.

OWFI plays a role in the political participation of women within movements for national freedoms and liberties in Iraq. Although our numbers are small when compared to the huge demonstrating masses, the purpose was to help organize some of the freedom-loving youth groups which had started from Facebook, but grew and multiplied in February. OWFI was one of the organizers of the demonstrations in Baghdad and Samarra raising slogans of change, right to work, and of course, equality.

Although the demonstration in Al Tahrir square was announced as a peaceful one, the security forces ended it at 5 p.m. by throwing sound bombs, splashing hot water, shooting live and plastic bullets at the demonstrators.

When we would not move and kept chanting slogans of relentless struggle, the security trucks began to drive down the square to chase and shoot us with live bullets. They beat up many of the demonstrators who fled into the alleys surrounding Al Tahrir square. One of our male supporters was shot in the knee, while two others were beaten by the U.S.-trained anti-riot police and the Iraqi army. Almost 20 people were shot in that day around the square, although the announced numbers were much less. Some died while the wounded were detained.

For those of us who ran to safety, we had to walk five hours in order to reach our homes in streets where cars were not allowed to drive.

In the western city of Samarra, OWFI women and men were leading the demonstrators,and raising banners demanding support for the widows, who are a majority among the women of Samarra. This was the first time a tribal community protest was led by women.

At the same time in most Iraqi cities, the army shot the demonstrators in the evening, attempting to disperse the demonstrators. Seven people were killed in this city, while 15 were wounded.

Demonstrations happened simultaneously in the Kurdish North and the South, making it clear that nobody cared for the artificially created division lines of Sunni, Shia, Arab, Kurd, Turk, etc. It was a day of a unified struggle against corruption and oppression, and for basic rights and freedoms.

While most demonstrating groups carried banners demanding reform of the government, the shooting and harassment of the demonstrators by anti-riot police and by the army shifted the slogans toward ones which rejected the oppressive measures.

OWFI has carried the banner of change since the beginning of the demonstration, and advised groups of cooperating youth demonstrators to do the same. The opposition media picked up the slogan and announced it on local TVs: “OWFI activist Yanar Mohammed will demand [change] in the coming demonstration next Friday.”

We are organizing for this coming Friday, hoping that the streets will be open, and that the army will let us into Tahrir Square.

Wish us good luck.

Photos and video courtesy of the author.


Yanar Mohammed is the president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.