Saturday, December 25, 2010

Iraqi Christians mark safer Christmas in Kurdistan

By NAMO ABDULLA - Reuters

AINKAWA, Iraq: Ammar Ablahad fled Baghdad to the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan just last week, determined to celebrate Christmas with his wife and baby without fear of attack.

"There's a 100 percent difference," said Ablahad, 32, a civil engineer who joined thousands of other Iraqi Christians fleeing to the safer north after deadly attacks and persistent militant threats against a dwindling Christian population.

In the worst recent attack, 52 people died at Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation church on October 31 when security forces stormed the church after militants took hostages during Sunday mass.

Pope Benedict said in his annual Christmas message that he hoped the holiday would bring consolation to Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East, where the Vatican fears that violence such as the October attack is fuelling a Christian exodus.

Fearing further bloodshed, several church leaders in cities such as Baghdad -- which is still plagued by almost daily attacks -- have urged Christians to keep Christmas low-key this year and limit celebrations to prayers and mass.

The threat of fresh violence has led Iraqi security forces to erect high blast walls topped with barbed wire around several churches in Baghdad. Holiday decorations were noticeably absent.

But about 300 km (190 miles) further north, in Ainkawa and other Kurdish towns, the mood is festive. Churches are decked out with fluorescent lights and holiday banners, and Christmas music blares out in the streets.

Kurdistan has been an oasis of relative calm in Iraq since 1991, when the area became a semi-autonomous enclave under Western protection. The region has earned the reputation of being a safe haven in an otherwise dangerous country.

On Christmas Eve, thousands of worshippers crowded into Ainkawa's Mar Yousuf church and its outside yard, decorated with bright lights and a big Christmas tree.

Dozens of policemen with machine guns stood guard outside the church. Authorities stepped up security and erected checkpoints outside the town to ward off any attack, said Lieutenant Rawaz Azad, director of Ainkawa's traffic police.

SANTA CLAUS AND JINGLE BELLS


Outside the Mar Yousuf church, cars inched forward in a traffic jam, as the song Jingle Bells blared from a car stereo. Many of the cars were covered in colourful streamers, or had Santa Claus toys on the dashboard.

On some major streets in Ainkawa, children stood together in anticipation of Santa Claus. Every year, local men dressed in red costumes drive through town in a pick-up truck, distributing gifts to local children.

In Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, upscale shopping centres such as the Majidi Mall are decorated with Christmas trees and festooned with banners that say "Merry Christmas."

"It's become impossible to have something like this in Baghdad," said Ablahad, huddling in the cold outside an Ainkawa church with his family.

The U.N. refugee agency said last week that some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, had fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from Baghdad, Mosul and other areas. Iraq's Christians once numbered about 1.5 million. There are now believed to be about 850,000 out of a population estimated at 30 million.

Bayan Awdesh, 50, said even her Muslim neighbours were getting into the Christmas spirit.

"They have bought a Christmas tree as well," she said, as she made last-minute purchases in the Boto Bazaar.

But for some of the refugees, sorrow over the lives they left behind means Christmas is no longer a cause for joy.

"I won't celebrate because I have no money," said Hekanosh Harkuon, a former university professor from Baghdad, as she shopped for winter clothes for her four daughters.

"My husband is a church security guard," added Harkuon. "He's our sole source of income."

(Writing by Namo Abdulla; Editing by Caroline Drees)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Killing Set Honor Above Love

By JOHN LELAND and NAMO ABDULLA - The New York Times


Sirwa Hama Amin, with her son in Dokan, Iraq. Members of Ms. Amin’s family shot her and killed her husband because they disapproved of the marriage. Photo by Ayman Oghanna


DOKAN, Iraq — Serving small glasses of sugary tea, Qadir Abdul-Rahman Ahmed explained how things went bad with the neighbors. It was not true, he said, that his brothers had threatened to drown his niece if she tried to marry the young man down the street.

“We are not against humanity,” he explained. “I told my brother, if she wants to marry, you can’t stop her.”

But the couple should never have married without permission.

“The girl and the boy should be killed,” he said. “It’s about honor. Honor is more important for us than religion.”

Honor killing has a long history in Iraq and here in the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan. But even here, this couple’s case stood out because the man was killed, not the woman, and because of the political clout of the warring families.

As some Iraqi lawmakers try to crack down on honor killing, the case — in which there have been no arrests — also illustrates how difficult it can be to uproot a deep-seated tribal honor code.

More than 12,000 women were killed in the name of honor in Kurdistan from 1991 to 2007, according to Aso Kamal of the Doaa Network Against Violence. Government figures are much lower, and show a decline in recent years, and Kurdish law has mandated since 2008 that an honor killing be treated like any other murder. But the practice continues, and the crime is often hidden or disguised to look like suicide.

It was in this climate that Mr. Ahmed’s niece, Sirwa Hama Amin, fell in love with her neighbor, Aram Jamal Rasool, in this village in northern Iraq.

On a recent afternoon in the home of Mr. Rasool’s father, Ms. Amin, 22, showed wedding portraits of herself and Mr. Rasool: a smiling young couple in formal dress, the bride showing none of the strain that marked the pale woman displaying the photographs.

Ms. Amin and Mr. Rasool, 27, grew up across the dusty road from each other, where each family had expanded in a string of houses so close together that their roofs nearly touched. Mr. Rasool’s father, Jamal Rasool Salih, 58, a retired general in the Kurdish military, or pesh merga, helped Ms. Amin’s family move to Dokan from Iran in 1993, and the two families became intertwined.

Like General Salih, Ms. Amin’s brothers and uncles joined the pesh merga and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the town’s dominant political party. One of Ms. Amin’s brothers married the general’s daughter and became his bodyguard; the general’s son Aram was a regular visitor in Ms. Amin’s home.

Still, when the couple fell in love a couple of years ago, they kept their passion secret, knowing their families would not approve. General Salih said he considered Ms. Amin’s relatives unruly soldiers and hellcats, always shooting people. Ms. Amin’s relatives mocked Mr. Rasool because he limped.

The problems started when Ms. Amin’s brother caught her sending a text message to Mr. Rasool on her cellphone. In socially regimented Iraq, cellphones and the Internet have enabled lovers to communicate outside the censorious eyes of their families. But this liberation has come at a price, said Behar Rafeq, director of the Shelter for Threatened Women in Erbil. Of the 24 women in the shelter on a recent day, 15 had encountered threats or violence because of their communications on cellphones or Facebook, Ms. Rafeq said.

Ms. Amin said her male relatives threatened to drown her and took away her phone.

Mr. Ahmed, Ms. Amin’s uncle, denied the threats. If the two wished to marry, he said, the appropriate way was for General Salih, accompanied by a delegation of tribal leaders, to ask for her hand. Instead, he sent surrogates.

“If someone doesn’t come and ask respectfully, how can you agree to that?” he asked.

General Salih said he did not want the marriage, either.

Ms. Amin became a captive in her home. One of Mr. Rasool’s brothers, Rizgar Jamal Rasool, 36, said that when he visited, he found Ms. Amin tearful and beaten, her face swollen.

Ms. Amin and Mr. Rasool became desperate, she said, and plotted ways to kill themselves.

On Sept. 2, 2009, she sneaked out of her parents’ house, walking across the roofs of the adjoining homes and down to a Toyota Land Cruiser. Mr. Rasool was waiting inside, with a grenade he had stolen from his father. “I said, ‘Let’s kill ourselves,’ ” Ms. Amin said. “He said, ‘No, let’s only do it if they find us.’ ”

Instead, the couple went to the police, explaining that they had been threatened because they wanted to marry. Mr. Rasool was held for possession of the grenade; Ms. Amin was sent to a shelter for battered women.

“He was arrested because I wanted him arrested for safety,” General Salih said. “The day they ran away, her uncle, a military captain, called me and said, ‘I’ll burn your house and kill you all if you don’t get the couple back today.’ ”

The couple appealed to the court, and two weeks later, after submitting their paperwork, they were married.

Though Ms. Amin’s family objected to the marriage, she said, they agreed to a truce: if the newlyweds promised to leave Dokan and never return, her relatives agreed not to hunt her down.

For three and a half months the couple lived in Sulaimaniya, an hour from Dokan. Then, on Jan. 2 around 9 p.m., Ms. Amin said, she was in the bathroom when she heard gunshots and her husband shouting her name.

She opened the bathroom door and saw her husband covered in blood and one of her brothers aiming a gun at her. “I saw only my brother, but someone else shot Aram,” she said. Before the smoke cleared, gunmen fired 17 bullets into Mr. Rasool’s chest and 4 into Ms. Amin’s leg and hip, General Salih said.

According to Mr. Ahmed, the brother who did the shooting was Hussein Hama Amin, a soldier in the pesh merga. Mr. Amin denied killing his brother-in-law but said he paid $10,000 to another brother, and to one of Mr. Rasool’s brothers, to kill the couple.

“Why should she live after she has been that irresponsible about the honor of her family?” Mr. Amin said.

Ms. Amin was two months pregnant at the time.

The authorities in Kurdistan have made great strides against honor killing, said Kurdo Omer Abdulla, director of the General Directorate to Trace Violence Against Women, a government agency. “Every year we see a decrease in the statistics of violence against women,” she said.

For the two families, the killing did not resolve the conflict.

The police arrested no one. Instead, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, tribal leaders and clerics brought the families together in a formal council session in front of more than 4,000 local residents.

General Salih said he was pressed by the party to forgive his son’s killers and promise not to kill them.

Ms. Amin’s family was required to promise not to kill her. The two families provide conflicting accounts on whether money was also exchanged.

Her relatives said they have disowned her but would not harm her. “May God kill her,” Hussein Hama Amin said. “We will not kill her.”

In General Salih’s living room, Ms. Amin dandled her 4-month-old son, named Aram after her husband. By Kurdish custom she is now disgraced and unsuitable for marriage.

She lives a few hundred feet from the family that cast her out, in a house filled with weapons, afraid that her relatives will try to kill her. When she leaves the house, she is escorted by armed in-laws.

General Salih remains bitter at his neighbors, the party and the tribal leaders, who have refused to make any arrests.

“I’m a powerful person,” he said. “I could kill them. But I don’t.”

“They should get arrested,” he said. “Instead they get salaries. There is no law.”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who Killed Zardasht Osman?

By NAMO ABDULLA - The New York Times

ERBIL, Iraq — Recently, Iraq’s Kurdish authorities accused an Islamic militant group of responsibility for the abduction and murder of a campaigning journalist, Zardasht Osman.

Mr. Osman was a young freelance journalist who leveled harsh criticisms at the leadership of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, writing about allegations of nepotism and corruption.


Sardasht Osman, a journalist murdered early in May.


In a televised confession, a man identified by the Kurdish security forces as Hisham Mahmoud Ismaeel, said to be a member of the radical Sunni group Ansar al-Islam, said last week that he was the driver of the mini-bus in which Mr. Osman was kidnapped outside his college here in Erbil on May 4.

Mr. Ismaeel accused Mr. Osman of having ties with Ansar al-Islam, and said that he was taken to Mosul and killed because he had not kept a promise to do — unspecified — work for the radical group. But he was not specific about the nature of the alleged ties that Mr. Osman had with the militants.

The announcement was the preliminary result of a secret inquiry set up by the region’s president, Massoud Barzani, about four months ago. But it has failed to convince many people, who believe rather that Mr. Osman was a secular journalist who was killed for the scathing Web posts that he had written against the Kurdish authorities.


Public skepticism about the official version increased after Ansar al-Islam itself denied that it was behind Mr. Osman’s murder.

“If we kill or kidnap someone, we will announce it ourselves. We don’t need anybody to lie for us,” the group said in a statement that was published in Kurdish newspapers. “We consider the kidnappings and killings we may carry out a prayer for which we shall get rewarded by God.”

Ansar al-Islam is a Kurdish offshoot of Al-Qaeda. It has been defunct since the outbreak of the 2003 war, when the United States bombed its bases in the Hawraman region near Sulaimaniya. Its leader, Mullah Krekar, now lives in Norway.

Mr. Osman’s family said they were “shocked” by the findings, describing them as nothing but a “scenario” set up by Mr. Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to defame the character of Mr. Osman. He was particularly critical of Mr. Barzani.

“The truth is that Zardasht was a journalist and that he was assassinated because of his journalistic work and criticism of the injustice of Kurdish society,” said Mr. Osman’s brother, Bakir Osman. He insisted that his brother was secular, not a religious fanatic.

However Nerwan Azhee, a spokesman for the Kurdish security forces in Erbil, dismissed criticism of the investigation.

“They are all illegitimate and baseless accusations,” said Mr. Azhee, who said that Mr. Osman himself was not suspected of being a terrorist. “We have hard evidence to prove that he was killed by Ansar al-Islam.” He added, “We are going to publish more detailed evidence about Mr. Osman’s link to the group.”

Independent and opposition newspapers have started a campaign raising questions about the inquiry. While his killing is the most serious incident so far, Kurdish journalists have long complained of harassment, intimidation, assaults and arrests by the Kurdish authorities. In 2009, 357 such cases were recorded by the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate.

The findings seem to have actually fueled rather than soothed the anger of the people, who staged demonstrations.

Kamal Rauf, editor in chief of Hawlati, the first independent newspaper in the Kurdish region, says the committee that carried out the investigation was not impartial.

“I cannot say the findings are untrue. This needs a backup,” said Mr. Rauf. “But they are not persuasive.”

Even those who believe in the results of the investigation fear that the abduction of a writer during rush hour in Erbil indicates a resurgence of Ansar al-Islam in what has until now been the safest region of Iraq.

As the United States prepares for next year’s full withdrawal after it has reduced the size of its troops to an almost 50,000, one questions remains to be posed: Is Kurdistan, which has portrayed itself as democratic secular, secure, going to survive?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Kurdish Village Governed by None


By NAMO ABDULLA - The New York Times


Bouzan Tekin, deputy leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, center, with other party leaders.


QANDIL, Iraq — The Land of the Medea is a nickname given to a group of villages located here in the Qandil mountains — in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq — where the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K., are active. The name comes from the ancient kingdom of the Medes.

It is a place without a government, yet also without disorder. It is, perhaps, in many ways, an ideal example of what philosophical anarchists wish to see in a larger community.

The rebels, who are the sole maintainers of security, hold a Marxist view of the state: It is a tool of the bourgeoisie to suppress the working class.

Thus, they have organized villagers to manage their own affairs through a local elected body called a “sharewani.” Each village has its own sharewani, independent of the others.
The P.K.K., which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey and the West, has been in a deadly conflict with Turkey since 1984, demanding an independent region for Kurds. Since then, more than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have been killed.

Turkey has long pressed the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq to blockade the rebels and stop visitors from bringing them supplies to maintain their war against Turkey.

The rebels first moved here to Qandil in 1999, after their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was expelled from Syria.

More than 150 families are thought to live in the mountains, which are about 11,500 feet high and straddle the Iranian border some 60 miles from the Turkish frontier.

Recently, the P.K.K. declared its seventh unilateral cease-fire, to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. That drew a rare visit from journalists.

Bouzan Tekin, one of the rebel leaders, said the cease-fire followed a message from the still-imprisoned Mr. Ocalan and calls from prominent politicians such as the the Kurdish leader of northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani.

“This is our own decision made under no pressure,” Mr. Tekin said. “But of course we have taken calls of many public figures into consideration. His Excellency Barzani is one of them.”

As we arrived in Qandil, Ahmed Deniz, a spokesman for the rebels, took us to a village populated by Iraqi Kurds. This village and a handful of others are not under the practical control of the Iraqi government or the Kurdish regional government. Their security is maintained by the rebels.

The one we visited looked normal. Fighters and families were living together. Children were playing hide-and-seek on the ill-paved streets. A few kilometers away, we saw smoke rising from the intermittent bombing by Turkish planes. Turkey has not recognized any of the P.K.K. cease-fires, saying that it does not negotiate with terrorists.

In this village you see a life different from elsewhere in Iraq. The fighters are both men and women, but they are prohibited from having sex or getting married.

“We cannot marry until we make our wish come true,” said Azima, a 33-year-old Syrian woman who joined the movement when she dropped out of high school 15 years ago. In 1984, the dream was to create a Kurdish state within Turkey. But now the P.K.K. has compromised, seeking more political and cultural rights for ethnic Kurds. Even that is uncertain.

“My generation may never see it,” Azima said wistfully.


A group of women who fight for the P.K.K.

“I admire Ocalan’s views on women,” she said. “He says that justice will never be achieved if women remain subordinated.”

Here you can see a number of cross-cultural contradictions. In the house of one villager in which we had lunch, a picture of Mr. Ocalan hung next to a portrait of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani.

However, the television was set to a Turkish channel broadcasting the news of the end of the term of the chief of the Turkish general staff, Ilker Basbug, who assumed office in 2008 and had launched a number of deadly assaults on the P.K.K.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Iran Tests Iraqi Resolve at the Border

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS and NAMO ABDULLA - The New York Times

About 200 Kurdish families live in a refugee camp near their now-deserted Iraqi villages of Ali Rash and Sharkhan, near the border with Iran. Photo by Holly Pickett


ALI RASH, Iraq — This remote village high in the rugged mountains along the border with Iran has been deserted, its people having fled Iranian air and artillery bombardments with everything they could carry and whatever livestock that could be coaxed down the steep mountain trails.

Now the hundreds of Kurds who left Ali Rash and other mountain villages are living in sweltering refugee camp tents. They are at the center of questions about whether Iraq is willing or able to defend its borders with Iran — which has repeatedly breached the frontier in recent months.

The attacks on Ali Rash and at least a dozen other Kurdish villages have continued for more than a month and have included a foray by Iranian tanks one mile into Iraqi territory. But they have elicited only a tepid protest from Iraq’s government, including the release of a statement pleading with neighboring countries to honor its borders.

The Iranian government has said its bombing campaigns are necessary to weaken Kurdish guerrillas that strike in Iran and take refuge in Iraq. The only confirmed casualty has been a 14-year-old girl.

The incursions, though, come at a critical time for Iraq — amid the political stalemate over who should lead the next government more than three months after a divided electorate cast ballots, and less than three months before the American military is scheduled to withdraw its last combat soldier from the country.

United States forces continue to patrol portions of Iraq’s 910-mile frontier with Iran, but in the Qandil Mountain villages that have suffered the brunt of the Iranian offensive, there are no American, Iraqi or Kurdish soldiers — and the refugees say they are getting little help.

“We have been left on our own,” said Bahar Ibrahim, 27, a refugee from Ali Rash, who is eight months pregnant.

In the villages of Ali Rash and Sharkhan, craters from Iranian munitions dot the ground in pastures and around crude stone houses.

Dr. Kamal Kadr examined a 6-week-old girl while her mother watched at the camp. Iran has breached the frontier in recent months. Photo by Holly Pickett



The hundreds of people who lived in the villages are now in refugee camps. Only a few stray horses remain. Even the honeybees have been taken to safer places. On the hillsides, where villagers grew wheat, the ground is scorched black.

The shelling here continues a trend of Iranian border incursions during the past 13 months that have included a helicopter attack on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq last May, and the occupation by Iranian soldiers of part of the Fakka oil field in southeastern Iraq for three days last December.

Last month, Iranian troops engaged in a firefight with the pesh merga, the Kurdish security forces, along the frontier before capturing and briefly detaining a pesh merga soldier. Iranian forces said they had misidentified the soldier as a member of the guerrilla group, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, more commonly known by its abbreviation, P.J.A.K.

The P.J.A.K., which is seeking greater Kurdish self-determination in Iran, and its sibling group, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which is fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey, use remote outposts in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region to carry out attacks, according to the Iranian and Turkish governments.

Turkey also bombs border areas in Iraq in pursuit of rebels. On Wednesday, clashes were reported between Turkish troops and P.K.K. fighters, which led to the deaths of four guerrillas and a Turkish soldier. Afterward, the Turkish military said it had dropped bombs in Iraq’s Kurdish region and its soldiers had crossed more than one mile into Iraq to pursue guerrillas. The Kurdish guerrilla groups have been listed as terrorist organizations by the United States government, though the P.J.A.K. has had contact with American officials as recently as four years ago.

The P.J.A.K. maintains that its attacks into Iran have been justified.

“We never kill civilians,” said Haval Kalhwr, a P.J.A.K. spokesman. “We are engaged in a defensive war which is internationally defined as legal.”

Officials in Iraq’s Kurdish region have criticized Baghdad for not doing more to persuade the authorities in Iran to halt the attacks. The Kurdish regional officials here also deny that they harbor guerrillas.

“The bombardment has continued, which means that the Iraqi government has not taken a serious position on this matter,” said Twana Ahmad, a spokesman for Barham Salih, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government.

Iran has announced several times during the past six weeks that it has halted the bombing, only to resume it a day or so later, according to residents of the village and Kurdish officials.

Kurdish refugees say that because the bombs have burned their wheat fields and killed livestock, even when the bombardment ends it will be years before the villages will be economically secure again.

In the meantime, they get water from relief agencies and buy food from itinerant traders who charge twice the price found in markets.

Some have been living in tents for weeks, and health officials say unsanitary conditions in the camps may lead to the outbreak of disease.

Sabria Salih, 26, who has an 8-month-old child, said Ali Rash — the village she fled from more than four weeks ago — had come under heavy attack from Iranian forces.

“We have left almost everything behind,” she said. “We have only some blankets.”

She said the Iranian government was mistaken if it believed that the villagers were hiding guerrillas.

“No P.J.A.K. has been killed or injured in the attacks,” she said. “And no one has ever seen P.J.A.K. in our village.”

Kurdistan Is Urged to Ban Genital Cutting

By NAMO ABDULLA and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS - The New York Times

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — Human Rights Watch urged Kurdistan’s government on Wednesday to ban genital cutting of women and girls, a practice the organization said is widespread and dangerous there, but which they said Kurdish officials had failed to move aggressively to stop.

Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization based in New York, interviewed 31 girls and women last year and combined its findings with recent surveys by other organizations that found that at least 40 percent of girls and women in Iraq’s Kurdistan region had undergone the procedure, which typically involves cutting off external genitalia with a dirty razor blade.

One of the studies, of about 1,400 girls and women interviewed during 2007 and 2008, found that almost 73 percent of women 14 years and older said that at least a portion of their genitals had been removed.

The report criticized Kurdish lawmakers for failing to approve legislation to ban the practice, saying attempts in the past had fallen short because Kurdistan had not made the issue a priority.

“Although it has not been completely inactive, its efforts have been piecemeal, low key and poorly sustained,” the report said of the Kurdish government.

During its interviews with Kurdish officials, Human Rights Watch said the government had played down the frequency of the practice, in part because of concerns about the damage the study might have on the international reputation of Kurdistan, which is generally regarded as being more Western and less socially conservative than much of the Middle East.

Human Rights Watch “was told that the rates of female genital mutilation were not significant and that organizations working to combat this practice had other ‘interests,’ such as tarnishing the reputation of Kurdistan,” the report said.

The Kurdish government does not collect its own data on genital cutting.

Mariwan Naqshbandi, a spokesman for Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, dismissed the study, saying that it had distorted reality and that Kurdistan had “issues far more important” to confront.

“The report is extremely exaggerated,” he said. “It is so unfair. It relied solely on some local reports. It relied on rumors.”

He added: “Circumcision exists as an isolated occurrence, rather than as a phenomenon in Kurdistan. It only exists in certain places.”

Human Rights Watch said Kurdish girls and women described genital cutting as being physically painful and psychologically scarring.

“Girls undergoing the procedure are forcefully held down, their legs pried apart, and part of their genitalia cut off with a razor blade,” the report said. “Often the same blade is used to cut several girls. No anesthesia is applied beforehand and if anything at all is applied to the open wound afterwards, it is water, herbs, cooking oil or ashes.”

In addition to wounds caused to women, risks include an increase in the rate of stillbirths and in the occurrence of babies with low birth weight, the report said.

It is not clear how common genital cutting is in the rest of Iraq, because it has not been the subject of a comprehensive study.