Daughters of Iraq

Charged with preventing suicide bombings, the female guards can't carry guns or work in public.

Published June 4, 2008 9:00PM (EDT)

Last fall, the U.S. military set up a female neighborhood guard program throughout Iraq to counter the growing threat of female suicide bombers. Insurgents have been turning to women because Islamic custom makes it easy for them to slip through security: Men are not allowed to frisk women. The military has recruited 500 women for Daughters of Iraq -- compare that to the 90,000-strong Sons of Iraq -- who search female visitors for weapons and explosives at banks, government offices, hospitals and schools, reports the Los Angeles Times.

But there's a catch. The women haven't been allowed to staff suicide bombers' favorite targets: security checkpoints and markets. That's because there's a local refusal to allow women to work in the public sphere. "In our culture, we can't have women standing in public on a checkpoint," Riyad abu Mohammed, deputy commander of Adhamiya's Sons of Iraq, told the Times. "It isn't good for us, for her or her family." There's plenty that could be said in response to that -- especially with regards to family honor versus family safety -- but I'll keep it simple: It isn't good for anyone, except insurgents, to fully neglect security checks for women in some of the most high-risk locations for suicide bombings.

There's also a general resistance to letting women handle dangerous work. Unlike their male counterparts, the female guards are not equipped with a weapon -- presumably, if the work actually required the protection of a gun, it would be considered too dangerous for a woman. Oh, the irony: The women are allowed to do dangerous work, but only if they sacrifice means of personal protection, thereby potentially putting themselves in greater danger. Alam, a woman wearing a "powder blue suit and leopard print veil" (wowzers), disagrees with the gun-restriction: "Al Qaeda is still here, so we need weapons to protect ourselves."

There's a lot of talk in the piece about the time it will take to break through these cultural barriers, but it doesn't seem that will happen soon enough as far as Daughters of Iraq is concerned: Iraqi officials are gradually taking over the neighborhood guards and, once full responsibility is handed over to them, they plan to dismiss all of the female recruits.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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