A few months ago, Abir Al-Janabi was just another 14-year-old Iraqi girl in a small town called Al-Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad. Both of her parents are from the Al-Janabi tribe, one of the biggest tribes with Sunni and Shia branches.
Omar Al-Janabi, a neighbor and relative, was informed by Abir’s mother that the young girl was being harassed by U.S. soldiers stationed in a nearby checkpoint. That is why Abir was sent to spend the night in her neighbor’s home. The next day, Omar Al-Janabi was among the first people who found Abir, with her 34-year-old mother Fakhriyah, her 45-year-old father Qasim, and her 7-year-old sister Hadil, murdered in their home. Abir was raped, killed by a bullet in her head, and then burned on March 12, five months before her fifteenth birthday.
Muhammad Al-Janabi, Abir’s uncle, reached the house shortly after the attack as well. Iraqi police and army officers informed him and other angry relatives that an “armed terrorist group” was responsible for the horrifying attack. This is exactly what the angry relatives of the 24 Iraqi civilians killed in Haditha four months before this incident had been told as well. In that case, U.S. officials initially claimed that a roadside bomb planted by terrorists had killed the 24 Iraqi civilians and one U.S. soldier in Haditha, but the Iraqi people knew that it was the Americans.
Unlike the case of Haditha, where Iraqi public opinion was furious about the massacre months before it reached to the U.S. mainstream media, the Iraqi press had not even heard of Abir until the U.S. army accidentally found out information about her while investigating another incident. This raises questions about the number of other similar cases that were never investigated and were blamed on non-occupation parties instead.
According to Iraq Body Count, a credible project documenting Iraq’s civilian casualties, the occupation armies are directly responsible for killing more than one fourth of civilians in Iraq since the beginning of the war. This makes the assumption that Abir’s case is just one of many even more plausible.
The “Hadji Girl” song is yet another indicator that what happened to Abir is most like not an anomalous case. “Hadji Girl” is a videotaped song about killing Iraqis written and performed by U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Belile while he was at the Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. The song became controversial a few weeks ago when the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered it on the internet and objected to its lyrics.
The lyrics, accompanied by loud laughter and applause, include lines as such as “So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me. As the bullets began to fly, the blood sprayed from between her eyes, and then I laughed maniacally. Then I hid behind the TV, and I locked and loaded my M-16, and I blew those little fuckers to eternity. And I said Dirka Dirka Mohammed Jihad, Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah, they should have known they were fucking with a Marine”. A two-week investigation held by the U.S. army ended with no punishment for Corporal Belile. Furthermore, according to the spokesperson for the Mike Church Show, Mike Church is planning to record and release “Hadji Girl” and give royalties to Belile. The right-wing presenter will sing and release the song on air this week.
But even if you believe that the case of Abir is a rare exception, it is still a major scandal in Iraq. Issues relating to honor are even more sensitive for the Iraqi public and government than the ongoing daily civilian murders. The first Iraqi governmental reaction came when an Iraqi female member of Parliament asked for an urgent session for which Prime Minister Al-Maliki was called back home to attend. The Iraqi Parliament described the rape as a crime against “the honor of all Iraqis”. As a result, Al-Maliki asked for a review of the laws put in place by U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer, giving foreign troops immunity from prosecution in Iraq. This seems to be an Iraqi public demand. Iraqi tribal leaders had a number of meetings across the country last week on the anniversary of “Thawrat Al-Eshrin”, the 1920 revolution against the British occupation. The largest meeting was that of the mostly Shia Middle Euphrates Tribes. During this meeting, they threatened to initiate a full-scale revolution against the occupation, similar to what had happened in 1920, unless the U.S. army hands over to them all soldiers accused of raping the “Al-Mahmudiyah Virgin,” as she is now known.
The uproar created in the wake of the death of Abir is but the culmination of over three years of pent-up frustration and rage the Iraqi people feel. It will only end with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. What is happening in Iraq is a rape of a nation, not just a rape of a 14-year-old girl, and it has to be stopped as soon as possible.
RAED JARRAR, an Iraqi living in the United States, is the director of the Iraq Project at Global Exchange. Jarrar can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org