Hold on ... It is a moment to mourn!!! Iraqi women in the sex mafia markets

By Shatha Al-Shabibi
This is a story about murderers, victims and witnesses. The murderers are persons without virtue, but who talk about virtue all the time, and the victims are persons without vices, but the hunger has drawn a path for them and made them believe that it is the path of righteousness. The witnesses are full of fear, fear of scandal and punishment. They did not testify or give their names.

This is a story about honour crimes committed by those who pretend to have honour. These are stories about Iraqi female victims who have fallen into the traps of flesh traders in their quest to earn a living in a country that floats over an ocean of oil.

I present to you stories about women that I  risked a lot to reach, in order to uncover the truth, because I believe that uncovering the truth is one of the most important moral values. So pardon me if I touch on a taboo topic and reveal the lies and deception. We have had enough and it is a shame to hide behind silence in order to avoid harm.

What I write about is part of the truth and not the whole truth, and what I present is part of reality and not the whole reality.

I have to walk down a path which I know is full of dangers, but I also know that smooth seas do not make skilful sailors. And because the topic is related to women and I am a woman, I must face the storm and tell the truth.

The stories are about Iraqi women who were caught between two hells, the hell of poverty and the hell of temptation. They were surrounded by men of murky and perverted intentions. Those women have miraculously escaped the claws of white flesh traders who are wandering freely in our country and preying on women and girls who are victims of homelessness and poverty, in the absence of social welfare, in a country that has suffered from wars, occupation and political tensions.

The strange thing is that despite the spread of this phenomenon, we have not seen any reaction from the politicians and others who are vaunting virtue and who have bored us with their resonant slogans about values and morals.

None of the Iraqi decision makers have batted an eyelid, even though the media have touched on this subject, provokes the feelings of everyone. Some saw it as an opportunity to joke and humiliate Iraqi women.

The stories are many, but I will uncover a few to enlighten the reader. Surely, To Allah We Belong And To Him Shall We Return.

The first story

Umm Rahaf is a widow who has moved between three governorates with her two daughters to save her eldest one (14 years old) from the clutches of a gang that calls itself a civil society organization for human rights.

This woman refuses to file a complaint with any official because she has lost trust in all of them. She always says: “They are backed by the state. If they were not, those traffickers would not carry out their activities freely and boldly.”

I will recount her story as she told it:

My husband was killed in Baghdad during the sectarian conflict. He left us without a source of income and without a home.

I had to look for a job to make a living and secure a shelter. Initially, my efforts were focused on getting social welfare payments but then I discovered that it was an impossible endeavour.

I sold all my jewellery and told myself that the crisis would eventually pass. I tried to find a job as I graduated from a technical school. All I could get were appointments and they are many in this country of lies and procrastination.

I put my trust in Allah until one day I thought that Allah answered my prayers. I met someone who works in an organization concerned with human rights. He was good to me and offered me a job in his organization. He was kind to allow me to bring my eldest daughter, who suffered from depression because she witnessed the killing of her father.

He treated her as a father and asked me to take care of her and not to ever say no to anything she asks. He always used to tell me jokingly, “If you do something to upset this girl, I will take her to a place befitting her beauty.”

I started to have suspicions and became more suspicious when he asked for her documents and photographs to get her a passport so that she could accompany him on his many trips to overcome her mental condition.

I started to watch him closely until I reached a conclusion beyond any doubt. I became certain that the good man was linked to a girls' trafficking network. Their work was facilitated by powerful and influential parties.

I knew their tactics and secrets, so I ran away. I moved to a faraway place and I changed my mobile phone number. I wished I could change my name and the way I look.

I am still suffering from this shocking experience, which I never thought I would go through in my life.

The second story

Nada, 24, is a divorced woman with a six-year-old child. She provides for her family, which consists of a disabled father and four sisters. She was so happy when she found a job in an organization for widows, orphans and divorced women.

Although her salary was barely enough to make ends meet, she was happy with it because the head of the organization was a woman and there were no men in the workplace.

Shortly after she started this job, she noticed a change in the manager’s attitude. She started to urge her to improve her appearance and to deal nicely with some of the men who are visiting the office, because most of them were influential.

She asked her to learn etiquette because the organization’s clients were influential people, including members of parliament.

The organization collects aid to provide relief for 500 female beneficiaries. According to Nada, the manager takes a group of nice-looking widows and divorced women to Baghdad on a weekly basis to show them to the generous influential people so that they would increase their contributions in line with the say “hearing is not like seeing”.

The manager called her one night and asked her to be ready to go with her to Baghdad. She stressed the need for her to look beautiful because they were going to meet an influential person.

She went to Baghdad and the meeting took place in the Green Zone. The Commander had just returned to Iraq. From the very first moment, Nada discovered that she was the victim of a game. She was brought with three women to please the hotshot Commander.

Nada cried with bitterness as she told the story. When she finished her story, she sighed, saying “damn poverty! That snake sold me.”

“The gentleman insisted on satisfying his lust even though he had his share from the two women who came with me. I saw it with my own eyes. I did not know where to run.”

“I feel like fainting every time I remember the ugly situation with nowhere to escape. The doors were locked and screaming would only cause a scandal.”

The third story

Wardah is a middle school student. Her mother endured a lot to raise her after the death of her father in 1991.

One day a rich woman knocked on their door and asked to marry Wardah to her only son who works in the United Arab Emirates. Wardah’s mother said yes. Why would she say no to a wealthy groom? His mother was very kind and polite. What more would anyone want for the daughter?

It was not long before the bride was ready to go with her kind and wealthy mother-in-law to marry her groom in the UAE.

The marriage was for one night. The next day he asked her to go to work. She did not understand in the beginning. She resorted to her mother-in-law but then discovered that she was not his mother but someone who worked for this contractor and that all the documents were fake!

Wardah collapsed. She screamed, cried, and begged, but to no avail. Finally, after the threats, beating and torture, she surrendered forcibly and went to work.

X, a young Iraqi merchant, told us: “I met Wardah in one of the clubs where I used to hang out. Her sadness and beauty attracted me and when I found out she was an Iraqi I was very sad. We got closer and became friends. She drank too much and sometimes she would have severe crying fits despite my repeated attempts to prevent her from drinking too much.”

“I tried many times to find out why she cries. Wardah eventually told me her tragic story, so I decided to help her, despite knowing the risks.”

“She did not have a legal passport because she was underage. They also had all her documents and IDs. That was a problem. She was also an illegal resident. The whole situation was complicated.”

“I was a foreigner in a country where Iraqis were ill-treated, but I made a promise to myself not to leave her. I spent a lot of money and contacted everyone I could trust to help Wardah. I left no stone unturned. Eventually I was able to bring Wardah back to her family and homeland.”

The fourth story

Suha, 16, is the only daughter of her engineer mother, who was displaced to one of the governorates and who lost contact with her relatives who reside in Diyala.

Suha was lonely in her new life because of her mother’s absence till the afternoon. She worked in a consulting and engineering designs company.

Suha complained about this in front of her classmates at school. One of the students suggested that she accompany her to religious lectures given by Umm ...., a pious woman.

Her mother was reluctant but Suha insisted. She went with her friend to visit the pious woman who was very kind and well educated. The teenage girl was even more pleased when she heard the woman praise her beauty.

After a while, the woman tried to turn the girl against her mother, and when she felt that things were going according to her wishes and that the two girls obeyed her after she had promised to save them from their bitter reality, she brought four documents and told Suha and her friend to sign them without reading what was in them. When her friend asked to read the paper, the woman answered angrily because she thought they were questioning her integrity.

Suha’s mother says: “I became suspicious of my daughter’s behaviour and started to watch her closely. One day, I saw her going to a house which in the beginning I thought was her friend’s. When she came back, I told her about my doubts and fears. She told me everything.”

“We found out that the woman works for a large spying network which picks beautiful teenage girls and sends them outside Iraq to use them as spies for those countries!!!!!!!!!!!”

The fifth story

Lahib is a middle school student who failed school for two consecutive years due to her neglect. She finally resorted to a woman who gave religious education classes and who worked for a religious institution.

A strong relationship developed between the woman and Lahib, who started to be annoyed by her mother’s actions and the restrictions imposed on her.

The woman started to turn her against her family and filled her head with ideas about the importance of personal freedom and the bright future ahead of her.

Lahib says: “Allah intervened at the right moment. I discovered the ugly truth about this wicked woman and her malicious intentions when she asked me to do indecent things.  She was telling me nice words, drawing a beautiful picture of the future and promising to get me outside Iraq after signing documents that she did not allow me to read.”

“But Allah saved me at that moment and I said no to her. I went back home whispering to myself: how stupid I was listening to this wicked woman!”

Who is responsible and what is the solution?

This phenomenon started after the 1991 economic blockade and was exacerbated after 2003 owing to the deteriorating security situation, fighting, displacement, poor parental guidance, poverty, systematic moral degeneration, lack of cultural awareness, the policy of keeping the people ignorant, absence of the rule of law, and the spread of corruption.

This has made Iraq a favourable environment for white slavery “mafias” to carry out their activities under many guises, through the bribery of officials in state institutions or through the establishment of strong relationships with officials and politicians who enjoy immunity.

Add to that the weak role of the media, civil society organizations and human rights institutions which keep silent vis-à-vis these crimes because they constitute a red line involving honour!

We do not want to overlook the role of neighbouring countries in bargaining with the dignity and honour of Iraqi women to achieve dirty and cheap intentions targeting the Iraqi society.

It is therefore necessary to address this phenomenon. It is true that it is a difficult task, but not an impossible one.

The prime and foremost responsibility lies with women representatives in the Iraqi parliament and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in collaboration with the study centres, media, and civil society and human rights organizations to determine the causes of this tragic phenomenon.

We need swift action accompanied by studies and surveys to reveal the truth with the help of Human Rights Watch, which pinpointed the problem in reports supported by figures and dates, of which copies were provided to the Office of the Prime Minister with no reaction so far!

The question that remains is how, when, why and where is the law that criminalizes, holds accountable, punishes and even addresses this silent crime and saves the face of Iraq and Iraqi women?

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