In Muqdadiyah, 50 miles from Baghdad, a woman wearing a traditional Iraqi abaya blew herself up this week in the midst of Iraqi police recruits. This was the seventh suicide attack by a women since the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, and an act unheard of before that. Iraqi women are driven to despair and self-destruction by grief. Their expectations are reduced to pleas for help to clear the bodies of the dead from the streets, according to a report by the international committee of the Red Cross, released yesterday. It's the same frustration that drew hundreds of thousands to demonstrate against foreign forces in Najaf on Monday.
In the fifth year of occupation, the sectarian and ethnic divide between politicians, parties and their warring militias has become monstrous, turning on its creators in the Green Zone and beyond, and not sparing ordinary people. One of the consequences is a major change in the public role of women.
During the first three years of occupation women were mostly confined to their homes, protected by male relatives. But now that the savagery of their circumstances has propelled many of them to the head of their households, they are risking their lives outdoors. Since men are the main target of US-led troops, militias and death squads, black-cloaked women are seen queuing at prisons, government offices or morgues, in search of disappeared, or detained, male relatives. It is women who bury the dead. Baghdad has become a city of bereaved women. But contrary to what we are told by the occupation and its puppet regime, this is not the only city that is subject to the brutality that forces thousands of Iraqis to flee their country every month.
Bodies are found across the country from Mosul to Kirkuk to Basra. They are handcuffed, blindfolded and bullet-ridden, bearing signs of torture. They are dumped at roadsides or found floating in the Tigris or Euphrates. A friend of mine who found her brother's body in a hospital's fridge told me how she checked his body and was relieved. "He was not tortured", she said. "He was just shot in the head."
Occupation has left no room for any initiative independent of the officially sanctioned political process; for a peaceful opposition or civil society that could create networks to bridge the politically manufactured divide. Only the mosque can fulfil this role. In the absence of the state, some mosques provide basic services, running clinics or schools. In addition to the call to prayer, their loudspeakers warn people of impending attacks or to appeal for blood donors.
But these attempts to sustain a sense of community are regularly crushed. On Tuesday, troops from the Iraqi army, supported by US helicopters, raided a mosque in the heart of old Baghdad. The well-respected muazzin Abu Saif and another civilian were executed in public. Local people were outraged and attacked the troops. At the end of the day, 34 people had been killed, including a number of women and children. As usual, the summary execution and the massacre that followed were blamed on insurgents. The military statement said US and Iraqi forces were continuing to "locate, identify, and engage and kill insurgents targeting coalition and Iraqi security forces in the area".
It is important to recognise that the resistance was born not only of ideological, religious and patriotic convictions, but also as a response to the reality of the brutal actions of the occupation and its administration. It is a response to arbitrary break-ins, humiliating searches, arrests, detention and torture. According to the Red Cross, "the number of people arrested or interned by the multinational forces has increased by 40% since early 2006. The number of people held by the Iraqi authorities has also increased significantly."
Many of the security detainees are women who have been subjected to abuse and rape and who are often arrested as a means to force male relatives to confess to crimes they have not committed. According to the Iraqi MP Mohamed al-Dainey, there are 65 documented cases of women's rape in occupation detention centres in 2006. Four women currently face execution - the death penalty for women was outlawed in Iraq from 1965 until 2004 - for allegedly killing security force members. These are accusations they deny and Amnesty International has challenged.
There is only one solution to this disaster, and that is for the US and Britain to accept that the Iraqi resistance is fighting to end the occupation. And to acknowlege that it consists of ordinary Iraqis, not only al-Qaida, not just Sunnis or Shias, not those terrorists - as Tony Blair called them - inspired by neighbouring countries such as Iran. To recognise that Iraqis are proud, peace-loving people, and that they hate occuption, not each other. And to understand that the main targets of the resistance are not Iraqi civilians. According to Brookings, the independent US research institute, 75% of recorded attacks are directed at occupation forces, and a further 17% at Iraqi government forces. The average number of attacks has more than doubled in the past year to about 185 a day. That is 1,300 a week, and more than 5,500 a month.
Another way of understanding this is that in any one hour, day or night, there are seven or eight new attacks. Without the Iraqi people's support, directly and indirectly, this level of resistance would not have happened.
Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi exile who was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, is the author of Women on a Journey: Between Baghdad and London. She can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.