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II. Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls

An accurate count of women and girl victims of sexual violence is almost impossible to achieve since many victims do not report such cases or even seek medical attention. In addition, the breakdown in police record keeping and widespread looting of court and hospital records that ensued after U.S. troops entered Baghdad means that there are no reliable figures or statistics available from Iraqi authorities regarding complaints or charges that are filed. The perception of the people on the ground, however, is that there has been a sharp increase in the cases of sexual violence since the war. Human Rights Watch obtained credible information on twenty-five cases of sexual violence and abduction and interviewed four victims of rape and abduction in Baghdad in the period between May 27, 2003 and June 20, 2003. Two of the cases involved girls under sixteen years of age. At one police station that Human Rights Watch visited, Iraqi police officers said that prior to the war they typically received one rape complaint every three months but had seen several cases in the few weeks it had been reopened since the war.2 Police investigators at the East Baghdad station stated categorically that the number of cases reported was substantially higher than before the war. “It is much worse,” said one Iraqi police investigator who asked not to be identified.

There is no safety, and there is too much crime, too many cases, even to pursue… Some gangs specialize in kidnapping girls, they sell them to Gulf countries. This happened before the war too, but now it is worse, they can get them in and out without passports. We have so many other cases, we have no authority to solve or investigate them.3

Despite indications from police that there has been an increase in sexual violence in Baghdad, the director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine (Ma`had al-Tibb al-`Adli), Dr. Faek Amin Bakr, told Human Rights Watch that before the war the institute, which is responsible for conducting rape examinations, received approximately seventeen to twenty cases of rape per month. He said that since the war the institute had only received one case, but stressed that the institute had turned away victims of sexual violence and had significantly shortened its working hours due to the security situation.4

The cases of Saba A., Salma M., Muna B., and Dalal S. (not real names or initials) are in keeping with other accounts of rape and abduction that Baghdad women and girls and their families cited as the primary reason that they feared to leave their homes.

On May 22, 2003, at approximately 4:00 p.m., nine-year-old Saba A. was abducted from the stairs of the building where she lives, taken to an abandoned building nearby, and raped. A family friend who saw Saba A. immediately following the rape told Human Rights Watch:

She was sitting on the stairs, here, at 4:00 p.m. It seems to me that probably he hit her on the back of the head with a gun and then took her to [a neighboring] building. She came back fifteen minutes later, bleeding [from the vaginal area]. [She was still bleeding two days later, so] we took her to the hospital.5

Human Rights Watch saw a copy of the medical report by the U.S. military doctor who treated Saba A. six days later. The report documented bruising in the vaginal area, a posterior vaginal tear, and a broken hymen.6 Lieutenant Monica Casmaer, a physician’s assistant attached to a U.S. military unit, examined Saba A. with the pediatrician. She described the injuries as fairly severe, especially given the time that had elapsed before she was examined. 7

Lt. Casmaer said she also treated a woman who reported that she had been walking home from the supermarket in the middle of the day, on approximately May 12, when she was abducted and raped by unknown perpetrators. Lt. Casmaer said she saw bruising consistent with the woman’s account of struggle.8

Forty-nine-year-old Salma M. told Human Rights Watch that armed men abducted her from her home on a Thursday night in early May. She told Human Rights Watch her captors gang-raped her at an unknown location before dropping her in an unfamiliar district of Baghdad the following morning. The attack seems to have been meted out by individuals seeking reprisal against persons associated with Saddam Hussein’s government. Salma M. lives next door to a wealthy man who was known to do business with many people “from Tikrit,” and she herself is rumored to have had connections with many of them.9Salma M. told Human Rights Watch,

I was here, on the stairs by the door. A car pulled up, a Volkswagen, it was painted as a taxi. One man got out. He asked me about someone, a certain Mr. X, and I said no, I didn’t know him. My daughter was on the upper floor, I was on the ground floor. Then three more men appeared, they became four. They were armed, they put guns to my head and said come with us. I screamed and said take the pistol away. My daughter started to scream. They pulled my hair and pushed me in the car and they started shooting at the house, more than fifty shots. My daughter was screaming the whole time. Many neighbors started to shoot too, but they couldn’t catch them.10

Salma M. described what happened after the men forced her into the car:

They made me put my head down between my legs, and put a pistol to my head. They said that if I moved my head I’d be killed, so I don’t know where they took me…. [Then they took me into a building where] they were hitting me on the head and arms, and I still can’t stretch out because my whole body hurts. They used hot water on my head, my eyes still burn from that and my arms. They raped me, in many, many ways. They kept me until the next day, I begged them, I said I have a young child, I said he might die if I leave him alone. And so then they left me alone. When I came home my appearance was so bad, my hair was a mess, my mouth was bloody and my legs too. They burned my legs with cigarettes. They bit me, on my shoulders and arms. All of them raped me, there were five or six more than the four who kidnapped me, there were ten of them total and I was raped by all ten of them.11

Salma M. showed Human Rights Watch an oblong scar on her right ankle that she said came from the cigarette burns. A journalist “embedded” with the U.S. military unit who responded when Salma M. returned home described Salma M. as in shock, her face swollen and bite marks on her neck and shoulders.12 Salma M. did not see a doctor, although one of the police officers recommended it. She explained, “I was afraid to go to a doctor. I couldn’t—I had a breakdown, I was overcome, I couldn’t think about seeing anyone, I just wanted to be taken away.”13 Salma M. told Human Rights Watch that she fears the perpetrators will return, and that she lays awake at night, certain every time a taxi drives down the street that her attackers have returned. Her fear for herself and her family is so great that she does not let her eighteen-year-old daughter leave the house.

Muna B., a fifteen-year-old, told Human Rights Watch that armed men held her at a house on the outskirts of Baghdad for approximately four weeks before she escaped on June 8, 2003. She described how the men had abducted her along with her two sisters, age eleven and sixteen, on or around May 11 from their Basra neighborhood.14

I was walking with my two sisters, one is older, another younger. They came in a cab, four men. They covered our eyes and mouths and took us, one had a rifle and another a pistol. It was in my neighborhood, we were going to the market. We drove for a long time, but I didn’t know where we were going. They covered our eyes, and I couldn’t see.15

Muna B. said the men held the sisters at a house with seven other young children: three girls (one approximately age ten, and two approximately the same age as herself), and four boys (two were five or six years old and the other about eleven). In addition to the four men who abducted her, Muna B.’s captors included a woman who appeared to be the girlfriend or wife of one of the other perpetrators. Muna B. said one of the men beat all the children on the first day they arrived. “We were crying and shouting, so he beat us, he used a plastic hose. It struck me on my back, near my shoulders. But he really beat my elder sister.” 16

The next day the men separated Muna B. from her sisters and put her in a room alone. During this time she heard them rape her older sister.

They did bad things to my sister. They beat her, and they did bad things. One night, I heard her shouting, and then a week later, they brought her to me, but only for one hour. She told me that they had slept with her, she was crying. She only told me about that one night, but she said that all [four men] did it…. It didn’t happen to me, the oldest man didn’t let them. They dragged me by my hand, and said that they wanted to sleep with me. The older one said, “Step back and leave her alone.” That was after they did it to my sister, the following day.17

On several occasions, the men brought other people who looked the children over. Muna B. believed them to be traffickers who were going to bid on children.

They brought in people they wanted to sell us to. They would bring men, they would look at us, and then bargain, negotiate a price. One was a fat woman wearing a veil, and another time two men came. They bargained and negotiated the prices, they would talk and laugh but not let us know, the [buyers] would ask how much, and then [the captors] would wink their eyes and say “don’t talk now, in front of them”… Then they would talk to us, saying “don’t worry, we’ll make you happy, we’ll give you a happy life, don’t worry, don’t cry”…. I think they wanted us to be dancers or something like that, they told us that. Ibtisam [the female captor], she dances, and she tried to teach me to dance. I didn’t want to, and I didn’t look at her when she danced.18

The last “buyer” came in early June. He returned the following day with another man. Convinced that she and her sisters would be sold to these men, Muna B. managed to escape when her captors left to get food for breakfast. She ran through fields for approximately fifteen minutes until she reached a road, then flagged down a car which took her to Baghdad, where she eventually made her way to U.S. soldiers who took her to a police station. When Human Rights Watch spoke to Muna B. on June 13, 2003, she had not seen her sisters since her escape in early June and feared that they were still in captivity or that they had been sold.

Muna B.’s account resembles that of Dalal S., a twenty-three-year old woman abducted from Baghdad on May 15, 2003. Dalal S. told Human Rights Watch that she was walking with her mother and other relatives to a social event when armed men abducted her from a crowded street. A witness to Dalal S.’s abduction, a student who happened to be on the street at the time, told Human Rights Watch, “It was 8:30 p.m., a car was standing there, a pickup truck, a white one. They were pretending to push the car.” The witness walked by, and when he had gone a few paces further heard shooting. “I turned around. We thought they were shooting at us, but saw they were shooting at those people.”19

Dalal S.’s mother was with her when Dalal S. was taken.

We saw a car, a pickup, standing. Their faces immediately looked strange to me, they were watching a woman in an apartment building there… Then they saw [Dalal S.]. The street was crowded, it was a commercial street, and the shops were open. I grabbed my little girl [Dalal S.] and moved away from those guys, but there were six of them, and one of them grabbed Dalal and got in the car. They began shooting, I jumped to open the door of the car and that’s when the shooting started. I asked my nephew to help, but they took Dalal in the car, there were more of them in the back. They picked her up and it was like something flew from us. It all happened in less than one minute.20

Ripped away from her relatives, Dalal S. was driven around for three hours and then eventually taken to a farm that she believes was on the outskirts of Baghdad. The perpetrators seemed to be brothers, and one told Dalal S. he was a former prisoner who had been sentenced to eighty years’ imprisonment but was amnestied by Saddam Hussein in October 2002. They gave Dalal S. various accounts of who they were and why they had abducted her.

When they took me, at first they said it was because someone wanted to marry me but my parents hadn’t consented, then another said I looked like his sister-in-law, who had caused him big problems…. The third one said that it was because I was wearing trousers. He said, “Why are you wearing trousers, the American soldiers are looking at you.” But really, they just wanted to deceive me, to take what they wanted…. They wanted to kidnap anyone, they had their mind to take four girls waiting for a taxi, I think they wanted to rape them, but they couldn’t take them so they took me instead.21

The men held Dalal S. at the farm until the next evening, when they sent her back to Baghdad. Before leaving her abductors made her don an abayato disguise her identity from neighbors who might see her.22

They didn’t want me to be discovered by the neighbors, they wanted me to look like a member of their family. Also, they weren’t going to return me to my own neighborhood, they were going to hire a taxi for me alone, and they were afraid of what would happen to me. 23

Dalal S. did not want to talk about the details of what had happened to her when Human Rights Watch interviewed her, saying that she was trying to move beyond the incident. However in an interview with a German journalist, Dalal S.’s mother confided that Dalal S. had been raped during the abduction.24

In addition to these cases, Human Rights Watch received several reports of other women who were abducted and taken outside of Baghdad. For example, U.S. military police reported to Human Rights Watch that on June 17, 2003, two women came to New Baghdad police station and reported that their companion had just been abducted while they were walking down the street. Although military police went to the scene they failed to find the perpetrators.25 Iraqi police in the station failed to take a report from the women, and only referred them to a police station in the district where they said the kidnapping had taken place (although the location was closer to the police station to which the girls appealed).26

In another case, Dr. Enas al-Hamadi, a doctor at the al-`Alwiyya maternity hospital, told Human Rights Watch that she had treated two young women who had been transferred to the hospital by police on Friday, May 9, 2003. Dr. al-Hamadi said the young women, in their late teens, had told her they had been walking down the street when they were abducted by men in a vehicle; they were driven to a location on the outskirts of town, raped repeatedly, and then were returned to Baghdad the next day. According to Dr. al-Hamadi, the two women showed signs of bruising and vaginal tears consistent with their accounts that they had been raped.27

2 Human Rights Watch interview with police officers, al-Karrada police station, June 4, 2003.

3 Human Rights Watch interview with Iraqi police investigator, Baghdad June 16, 2003.

4 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Faek Amin Bakr, Baghdad, June 1, 2003.

5 Human Rights Watch interview, (name withheld), June 10, 2003.

6 Human Rights Watch interview with physician’s assistant Lieutenant Monica Casmaer, attached to the 4-64 armored battalion, Second brigade, Third Infantry Division, Baghdad, May 31, 2003, who was present at the examination; and medical report signed by Dr. Eric Schobitz, staff pediatrician, CPT MC U.S. Army, dated May 28, 2003.

7 Human Rights Watch interview with physician’s assistant Lieutenant Monica Casmaer, attached to the 4-64 armored battalion, Second brigade, Third Infantry Division, Baghdad, May 31, 2003.

8 Human Rights Watch interview with physician’s assistant Lieutenant Monica Casmaer, attached to the 4-64 armored battalion, Second brigade, Third Infantry Division, Baghdad, May 31, 2003.

9 Human Rights Watch interview with Salma M., Baghdad, June 20, 2003,

10 Human Rights Watch interview with Salma M., Baghdad, June 17, 2003.

11 Human Rights Watch interview with Salma M., Baghdad, June 17, 2003.

12 Human Rights Watch interview with Natalie Pompilio, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 16, 2003.

13 Human Rights Watch interview with Salma M., Baghdad, June 17, 2003.

14 Muna B. did not know the exact date, but recalled that it was a Sunday and estimated that she was held approximately one month. Human Rights Watch interview with Muna B., age fifteen, Baghdad, June 13, 2003.

15 Human Rights Watch interview with Muna B., age fifteen, Baghdad, June 13, 2003.

16 Human Rights Watch interview with Muna B., age fifteen, Baghdad, June 13, 2003.

17 Human Rights Watch interview with Muna B., age fifteen, Baghdad, June 13, 2003.

18 Human Rights Watch interview with Muna B., age fifteen, Baghdad, June 13, 2003.

19 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhannad Walid Shakr, age twenty-one, Baghdad, June 11, 2003.

20 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalal S.’s mother, Baghdad, June 20, 2003.

21 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalal S., Baghdad, June 20, 2003.

22 An abayais a black head and full-length body covering worn by conservative women.

23 Human Rights Watch interview with Dalal S., Baghdad, June 20, 2003.

24 Human Rights Watch interview with Birgit Kaspar, ARD German Broadcasting Network, Baghdad, June 11, 2003.

25 Human Rights Watch interview with U.S. military police Lieutenant Brad Manning, 307 MP company, 519 Battalion, Baghdad, June 18, 2003.

26 Human Rights Watch interview with Iraqi police officer at New Baghdad station, Baghdad, June 19, 2003.

27 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Enas al-Hamadi, Baghdad, June 2, 2003.

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July 2003