In Iraq, tribal traditions rob women, girls of rights

In Iraq, tribal traditions rob women, girls of rights
A woman looks at wedding gowns at a bridal shop in Diwaniya, Iraq. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019

In Iraq, tribal traditions rob women, girls of rights

In Iraq, tribal traditions rob women, girls of rights
  • Iraqi society remains largely conservative, bound by tribal traditions and customs practiced from its sprawling capital Baghdad to far-flung rural provinces

AMARAH, Iraq: Two weeks into Mariam’s forced marriage to her cousin according to Iraqi tribal custom, she desperately doused herself in fuel, flicked on a lighter and attempted suicide by self-immolation.

The 22-year-old spent three days in hospital in Iraq’s southern Misan province last summer before succumbing to her wounds, recalled sheikh Haydar Saadoun.

“A university classmate from a different tribe had proposed, but her relatives refused,” said Saadoun, an official from the Bani Lam tribe in the town of Amarah in Misan.

“They said they had rights over her because of ‘nahwa’,” he said, referring to a tribal custom that authorizes the men of a clan to reject marriage proposals to a female member.

They arranged for her to wed her cousin instead.

“He was already married, had fathered multiple children and was illiterate, while Mariam was going to university,” Saadoun said.

Wearing a modern three-piece suit under a traditional cape, he told AFP he tried to dissuade Mariam’s fiance but was overruled.

“He told me: ‘I’ll break her nose. I’ll marry her and rub her face in it’,” Saadoun recounted.

Iraqi society remains largely conservative, bound by tribal traditions and customs practiced from its sprawling capital Baghdad to far-flung rural provinces.

In the country of nearly 40 million, clan names can carry weight in securing work, a spouse and even votes.

They often trump government institutions, as tribes look to their own mediation methods to resolve disputes instead of the official court system.

Women and girls often suffer under these patriarchal systems, with many forced to marry against their will, subject to domestic abuse and deprived of an education.

The southern provinces of Misan and Basra, where tribal influence is widespread, have the highest rates of child marriage in Iraq, the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said in 2018.

In Misan, 35 percent of married women between 20 and 45 said they wed as teenagers, and in Basra the rate is 31.5 percent.

In one tribal custom known as “fasliya,” women are married off as restitution for blood spilt between two tribes.

Karima Al-Tai, a women’s rights activist in Misan, said the custom had ravaged her own family.

“Twenty years ago, a conflict broke out between my tribe and another. During the fighting, a man from the other clan was killed,” said Tai, 50.

Calling for a truce, Tai’s tribe offered “five virgins” to the opposing tribe — including her cousin, Sahar, who was married off to the victim’s brother.

Over “20 years of hell” Sahar was bullied and harassed by her husband’s family, Tai recalled. Even her children were publicly branded “children of the fasliya.”

But when Sahar asked her family for help, said Tai, “her relatives would tell her, ‘you’re a fasliya. Accept your fate’.”

“Fasliya” is still being practiced. In 2015, a tribe in the southern province of Basra married off 50 girls and women to another tribe under a truce.

With no family support or access to outside help, some Iraqi women and girls have turned to suicide.

A 2017 study of 62 attempted self-immolation cases in Basra found that family problems, including marital issues, were the precipitating factor in 80 percent of the cases.

Authorities in Misan said 198 women had attempted suicide over the past two years, and 14 of them lost their lives.

But details are scarce. Mental health problems in Iraq remain taboo, and efforts to discuss them with tribal leaders have seen little success.

Even Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top religious authority for most Iraqi Shiites, called last year for an end to “nahwas” and other tribal practices, to no avail.

The customs were criminalized in Iraq’s 1959 personal status law, which was strictly implemented under Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule.

Marrying a woman by force under “nahwa” is punishable by three years in jail for a cousin and 10 years for a more distant relative.

But as the central government lost influence across swathes of Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion, tribal power structures took precedence.

Now, “this law is not applied because no woman would file a complaint against her own family,” said lawmaker Intissar Al-Juburi.

And efforts to introduce tough laws to protect women have been hampered by political stalemates and an emphasis on security and economic issues.

Meanwhile, tribal customs are becoming further entrenched, according to Maytham Al-Saadi, a professor at Misan University.

“In the past, fasliyas would be proposed only in cases needing blood money, but in recent decades they’ve been used to end the simplest disputes between tribes,” he said.

“It’s modern slavery.”


EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
Updated 7 sec ago

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia

EU calls for quick return to ‘stability’ in Tunisia
  • Borrell pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Tuesday called for a speedy return to political stability in Tunisia after the country plunged into turmoil following the president’s ousting of the prime minister.
“The European Union is following developments in Tunisia with the greatest attention,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
“We call for the restoration of institutional stability as soon as possible, and in particular for the resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and an abstention from all forms of violence.”
Borrell insisted that “the preservation of democracy and the stability of the country are priorities,” and pointed to the “considerable support” given by the EU to help with a financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The young North African democracy, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was thrust into a constitutional crisis on Sunday after President Kais Saied dismissed premier Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup.”
Saied then sacked the defense minister and justice minister.
The crisis follows months of deadlock between the president, the premier and Ennahdha chief Rached Ghannouchi, which has crippled the Covid response, as deaths have surged to one of the world’s highest per capita rates.


Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
Updated 27 July 2021

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
  • Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies
  • Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron’s phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation.
Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.
“Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO,” it said.
Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies like Pegasus.
A global investigation published last week by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.
NSO rejected the reports, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.
Gantz’s trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers’ efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.
Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.
France’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.


Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
Updated 27 July 2021

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
  • Rights group issues conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians
  • Such attacks violate ‘the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians’

JERUSALEM: Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli military of carrying attacks that “apparently amount to war crimes” during an 11-day war against the Hamas militant group in May.
The international human rights organization issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It said “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.
The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching over 4,000 unguided rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Such attacks, it said, violate “the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
The report, however, focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associated crisis and conflict director at HRW. He said Israel’s “consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes,” coupled with Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas, underscored the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Israeli military, which has repeatedly said its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza. It blames Hamas for civilian casualties by launching rocket attacks and other military operations inside residential areas.
The war erupted on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a contested site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighborhood. In all, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars toward Israel, while Israel has said it struck over 1,000 targets linked to Gaza militants.
In all, some 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel has claimed the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
The HRW report looked into Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes on Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Gaza City. The airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the Al-Kawlaks.
Israel has said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area and suggested the damage to the homes was unintentional.
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used US-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that Israel had not warned any of the residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also it found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.
The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.
Israel has suggested the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket. But based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts, HRW said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile.”
“Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike,” it said.
The third attack it investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The strike killed 10 people, including two women and eight children.
HRW investigators determined the building was hit by a US-made guided missile. It said Israel has said that senior Hamas officials were hiding in the building. But the group said no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and UN officials have accused both sides of committing war crimes in all of the conflicts.
Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory polices toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.
In Tuesday’s report, it called on the United States to condition security assistance to Israel on it taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.
It also called on the ICC to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is capable of investigating any potential wrongdoing by its army and that the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.


Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
  • The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784

DUBAI: Almost 2 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Oman since the start of the country’s National Immunization Campaign. 

This represents 53% of the targeted population, the state-owned Oman News Agency said. 

The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784 while the number of those who took two doses stood at 338,523, it said. 

Muscat governorate came first in the number of vaccinated people that reached 618,264 (55% of the target category) followed by North Al Batinah with 234,808 (39%), then South Al Batinah with 153,277 (45%).


Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
Updated 27 July 2021

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
  • In his first interview as prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati said he plans ‘to form a government of specialists’ to rescue country from its economic crisis
  • He said: ‘I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran’ and ‘we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country’

BEIRUT: In his first interview after being appointed Lebanon’s prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government, Najib Mikati promised the Lebanese people he will “tell the truth about everything.”

Mikati won the backing of the Lebanese parliament on Monday, receiving 72 votes out of a possible 118. He replaces Saad Hariri, who resigned as PM-designate on July 15 after nine months of failed negotiations with President Michel Aoun to form a government.

In an exclusive interview with Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, Mikati said that “Hariri’s patriotic feeling prompted him to step down.” He also stated that “there are international and American guarantees that Lebanon will not collapse.”

Mikati said that he wants “to form a government of specialists so that we can implement” a previously proposed French initiative that is “capable of helping Lebanon.”

As a result of fuel shortages, Lebanon has been hit but power outages recently, and Mikati stressed the need to “address the electricity problem.”

The country is also experiencing an ongoing financial crisis, during which the currency has lost most of its value. Mikati said that “banks are experiencing difficulties but work can be done to solve them.”

As for the challenge of forming a new government, almost a year after the previous authority resigned in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, Mikati said: “President Michel Aoun is betting on the government and wants to save the country. I told him that I will visit Baabda Palace as soon as (possible) to start forming the government.”

He added: “I have been assigned to continue (this task) and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I can carry out this task.

“I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. We are with the Arab option, and we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country.”

Two Christian parliamentary groups refused to nominate Mikati during the consultations that led to his appointment, but he said he “understands their position and it is not personal.” He added that his relationship with them “is excellent and is based on respect.” He pointed out that the country is on the cusp of parliamentary elections and predicted that the groups “will support me from the outside because they are looking forward to four years in parliament.”

Talking about the Beirut explosion, Mikati said it “is a disaster that requires great efforts to be dealt with. We want to know the truth about who brought in the ammonium nitrate.” It was stored at the port without proper safety precautions and caused the disaster. He said that Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the blast, “is a man of conscience.”

In 2019 Mikati faced corruption charges relating to housing loans, but he told An-Nahar he “did not commit any infringements.”

A businessman who does not represent a particular political party or bloc, Mikati has served as PM on two previous occasions: on a caretaker basis for three months in 2005 and from June 2011 until February 2014.