a woman's place is in the struggle: Bring them home


Thanks to a compliant media, with reporters embedded in units of the US and British military forces invading Iraq, we are all being spared the sight and sound of things that would almost certainly turn us wild with anger and grief.

There were no cameras, for example, at the US checkpoint 40km south of the town of Karbala last week when 11 members of a family of 17 were shot to pieces "by mistake".

"I saw the heads of my two little girls come off", heavily pregnant Lamea Hassan, 36, told a reporter later at a military hospital. Hassan repeated herself in a flat, even voice: "My girls — I watched their heads come off their bodies. My son is dead."

The family were fleeing their village after reading leaflets dropped by the US invaders advising villagers to "be safe", which they thought meant that they were supposed to leave — a logical conclusion considering that US attack helicopters had fired rockets on them the day before.

"The Iraqi family misunderstood", said Sergeant Stephen Furbush, a US Army intelligence analyst. "The message read: 'To be safe, stay put'."

Pentagon officials said the US soldiers at the checkpoint who opened fire were following orders not to let vehicles approach checkpoints.

By contrast, one image that has had plenty of airplay (courtesy of a US Army media unit) was that of stretcher- borne, star-spangled-banner-draped, 19-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch. She was taken prisoner by Iraqi forces when the US Army's 507th Maintenance Company "took a wrong turn" and was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers.

Lynch's father, a self-employed truck driver, was so amazed at the massive US military operation that freed his daughter from an Iraqi military hospital on April 1, he told journalists who gave him the news that he thought it was a (bad) April Fools' Day joke. He has not been advised when to expect his daughter home, but her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia, is swathed in yellow ribbon.

After her rescue, Lynch's picture was splashed across the front pages of the Murdoch tabloids to give the impression that the US invaders of Iraq "care" about the welfare of women.

Indeed, in justifying his decision to invade Iraq, US President George Bush argued it was necessary to put an end to the Iraqi regime's "rape rooms". Yet Bush is the commander- in-chief of a military machine whose own internal regime covertly sanctions the systematic raping of young women.

A week after Bush ordered this war machine to attack Iraq, four top officers at the US Air Force Academy in Boulder, Colorado, were dismissed after two months of revelations about the rapes of more than 50 women cadets and the officers' cover-up of these assaults.

US Air Force officials claim that they were "unaware" of the scope of the "rape rooms" at the academy. But in 1997, an annual survey of cadets showed that 10% of women responding said they had been the victim of a sexual assault at the academy in the previous 12 months.

Despite the estimated 150 cases of rape over the past decade, only one male cadet has been court-martialed on such a sexual assault charge during that time, and he was acquitted.

Sexual violence is an integral part of the dehumanisation required to train US military officers, since their job is to order the bombing and shelling of defenceless families like those of Lamea Hassan.

So, the media image that really turned my stomach last week was that of George Bush and his British poodle, Tony Blair, reclining in their armchairs in front of the cosy log fire at Camp David. If they think bringing just one soldier home from the slaughterhouse they have created in Iraq is going to satisfy me, they've got another thing coming. Hell no! I won't stop protesting 'til all of the US, British and Australian troops are out of Iraq. Troops out now!


[The author is a member of the Socialist Alliance and the Democratic Socialist Party.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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