In a move signaling the advent of religious and cultural conservatism, Iraqi policewomen have been ordered to surrender their weapons, or face losing their paychecks.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, issued the order late last month, according to ministry documents, U.S. officials and several of the women. It affects all officers who have earned the title “policewoman” by graduating from the police academy. It does not apply to men in the same type of jobs.
This move endangers the rights of all women in Iraq, since few Iraqi women would report a stigmatizing crime such as rape to a policeman. Additionally, the safety of all Iraqis is put at further risk because there would be no policewomen to conduct pat-down searches of female suspects.
The Iraqi policewomen will now be unable to protect themselves, on or off duty.
Policewomen say the decree also will leave them unable to protect themselves at work or off duty. Scores of police employees, both officers and administrative workers, have been killed by insurgents. Men and women have traditionally been allowed to carry their Glock pistols with them after hours for security.
“We are considered policewomen. We face kidnapping. We could be assassinated. If anyone knew where we worked, of course they would try to do something to us,” said a 27-year-old interviewed Sunday.
“How can I be a policewoman without a weapon?” she asked incredulously as three female colleagues nodded in agreement.
Several of the policewomen have said they will refuse to surrender their weapons, but will instead protest. They are not counting on U.S. authorities for back up.
Despite the ministry order, the women said they would not hand in their weapons. If their pay is withheld at the end of the month, they plan to stage a protest.
They added that they were counting on U.S. authorities to back them up and force the ministry to back off.
Phillips, though, said U.S. officials have limited options.
“It’s a sovereign nation. We turned over the running of their own police force to them,” he said. “We don’t have a veto.”
As the Iraqis stand up, we will fail to support them.