Since the 1980s, the United States has continued to meddle in Iraq and Iran. The constant invasions, coup d’etats and forced instillations of Western principles of government have fueled anger and resentment among foreign officials, giving rise to the political and economic destabilization of Iraqi and Iranian citizens — particularly women.
Recent political actions could jeopardize the safety and well-being of Iraqi women, placing them in greater harm than before. Given Iraq’s proximity to Iran, any increase in tensions between the U.S. and Iran could have devastating effects on Iraq, especially women — their most vulnerable population. The recent killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani could add to this toll as tensions between Iran and the U.S. continue to rise. Subsequently, the U.S.’s ability to resolve their actions makes the safety of Iraqi women an uncertainty.
It’s unacceptable to remain ignorant about the destruction of millions of lives while employing American exceptionalism to advance foreign policy measures. There need to be more efforts to help Iraqi women and girls escape the violence and poverty they endure due to United States intervention.
One potential solution would be to accept more refugees and immigrants — not only from Iraq, but from all other countries destabilized by U.S. invasion.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees created a plan to resettle Iraqi women and girls in 2003, which lasted until 2007. As many as 20,000 Iraqi victims of the U.S. invasion were resettled. One of their priority objectives was to “reduce the vulnerability of women and girls at risk.” However, the deep animosity within the Trump administration for refugees and immigrants is a clear roadblock for opening up this avenue as a solution. Only 153 Iraqi applications for U.S. refugee status were given priority. 110,000 applications are pending, but only 4,000 Iraqis will be fortunate enough to be granted wartime assistance.
The aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein serves as a notable example. A political vaccum was left, which led to an increase in violence against women. After the U.S. invasion, up to 14,000 women were killed; between 2003 and 2007, 1,053 cases of rape against women and girls were reported. In addition, women have been forced into prostitution to pay back debts, where they endure physical and mental torture. An individual instance of this extreme violence is shown by the story of a Yazidi girl, who, after the Islamic State began to fill the vacuum left by the war in 2015, told activists that her and 350 other girls were “displaced and sold in the streets ‘as if in a chicken market.’”
This issue strikes a chord with me. My grandmother immigrated from Iraq to the United States in 1963 to escape gender-based restrictions. Her story always makes me ask: what could have been?
Her life in the U.S. blossomed; she received her GED and participated in a variety of religious and community organizations. Her life reminds me of the importance of accepting refugees and immigrants, not only to help them, but also because they empower American communities.
Fixing the consequences of destructive foreign policy must be a priority, especially when the United States has played a large role in contributing to the suffering of many women. My grandmother’s story is a testament to the importance of immigrants, and showcases the need for new refugee resettlement programs in the face of war and bigotry.
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Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]