BAGHDAD — Reports of the gang-rape of 20-year-old Sabrine al-Janabi by three policemen has set off new demands for justice from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.
Janabi, who lives in the Hai al-Amil area of southern Baghdad with her husband, was taken from her home Feb. 18 to a police station and accused of assisting resistance fighters.
Janabi told al-Jazeera channel Feb. 19 that three police commandos raped her in the police garrison after accusing her of cooking for resistance fighters.
“One of them put his hand on my mouth so no one outside the room could hear me,” she said in a videotaped statement. “I told them ‘I did not know that an Iraqi could do this to another Iraqi’.”
She said “I begged them not to rape me and I swore to them that I was a good woman and I am like a sister to them, but they did it one after the other.”
Nouri al-Maliki’s office issued a statement that medical evidence showed Janabi had not been raped. That statement has turned the event into a political crisis.
Janabi is Sunni, and the police predominantly Shia. Sunnis have long accused the police of using heavy-handed tactics against Sunnis during “security operations.” But this incident appears to be highlighting widespread displeasure with the Iraqi government at least as much as stoking strained sectarian tensions.
Maliki’s office described Janabi as “a liar” and recommended that the three accused policeman be commended, in response to demands for an independent investigation from both Shia and Sunni opposition groups.
The New York Times reported that an Iraqi nurse who says she treated Janabi saw signs of sexual and physical assault.
Stories of rape committed by both U.S. and Iraqi soldiers have appeared since the early days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The first stories emerged from inside Abu Ghraib prison. These, along with photographic evidence of sexual humiliation, provoked widespread anger across Iraq.
Rape victims in Iraq rarely come forward because they fear public scorn and humiliation. A Muslim woman who acknowledges being raped risks death at the hands of male relatives seeking to restore family honour.
Dr. Harith al-Dhari, secretary-general of the Sunni religious group The Association of Muslim Scholars, told reporters this week that rapes take place often, but victims are not coming forward to file complaints.
But since Janabi went public with her story, other stories of rape have begun to emerge.
On Feb. 22 a 50-year-old Sunni woman accused four Iraqi soldiers of raping her and attempting to rape her two daughters. She took her story to minister Izzidin Dola, who then brought the mayor of her city and a group of tribal chiefs to her home in order to take her statement.
“At least four police officers participated in that crime and they are facing legal procedures,” Dola told IPS.
“The Iraqi police are following the example of those who trained them,” Ahmed Mukhtar, a school headmaster in the northern Iraqi city Mosul told IPS. “American soldiers did it more than a thousand times and got away with it. They sentenced that soldier who killed Abeer after raping her with a hundred years imprisonment, but we Iraqis are not fools, and we know he will be on parole sooner than he hopes.”
Mukhtar was referring to the gang rape of 14-year-old Abeer al-Janabi last year near Mahmudiya south of Baghdad. Janabi was then killed together with her parents and younger sister. Soldiers then burnt the bodies in an attempt to cover their crime.
Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, was sentenced Feb. 23 to 100 years in prison, but is eligible for parole in 10 years. Cortez pleaded guilty to the rape and killing.
Iraqi resistance groups have issued statements declaring that the Iraqi police and soldiers involved in recent rapes would be given “proper punishment.”
(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq, and has been covering the Middle East for several years)