Iraqi women take on key security role as attacks by female suicide bombers rise.By Tom A. Peter | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the September 11, 2008 edition
Reporter Tom A. Peter talks about the potential future of community policing in Iraq.
Baghdad - Although the overall level of violence in Iraq has decreased to a four- year low, the country has recently witnessed a sharp rise in a violent trend that alarms many Iraqis: female suicide bombings. This year the number of suicide bombings carried out by women has more than tripled to 29 attacks, say US military officials.
Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups have turned to women to exploit cultural practices that do not allow men to search women. As a result, females can pass through most checkpoints in Iraq without someone so much as looking in their handbags.
To combat this threat, Iraqis have begun recruiting women for the Daughters of Iraq, a female counterpart to the Sons of Iraq community policing program largely credited with reducing violence in Iraq. While female security guards remain a small minority, they've stopped many female insurgents. And, some say their example could help change perceptions about the role of women in Iraq.
"Right now women [suicide bombers] are more dangerous than men," says Sheikh Zaid Ahmed Al-Wan, an Awakening Council leader in Adhamiya, a Baghdad neighborhood. "You can't see anything on a woman's body, especially when she's wearing an abaya [a traditional Islamic gown] or a long dress. In the summer you can see everything on a man, you can even see if there's something in his pocket and even in the winter you can tell if he's carrying a big weapon or a bomb."
The most recent female suicide attack killed 18 people and injured 75 on Aug. 14. The bomber targeted Shiite pilgrims in a rest area in Iskandariyah in Iraq's Babil Province.
The bombing highlights how females can often inflict more damage than males. The majority of women bombers wear explosive vests or belts covered by abayas and are sometimes made to look pregnant, according to US military officials who track suicide bombing trends. This allows women easy access to crowded areas where they can cause the most damage.
Identifying a common profile for female bombers can be difficult, with one as young as 13. There is also speculation that bombing cells have used mentally handicapped women to carry out some attacks.
While the motives of each bomber varies, US military officials say most female suicide bombers share at least one of the following characteristics or circumstances: dishonor through sexual indiscretion, loss of a family member and a desire for revenge, desire to attain heroic status, inability to produce children, or an interest in demonstrating gender equality.