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Muted Voices From The Killing Fields Of Iraq
July 29, 2003
by Carey Roberts

After a four-hour gun battle in Mosul last week, Qusai Hussein lay dead, next to brother Uday. Qusai, 37, was best known for the torture and elimination apparatus that he had operated with cruel efficiency over the years.

Now, families of the victims are trying to pick up the pieces. Literally.

When Sadaam's brutal regime toppled in April, thousands of Iraqis began the grim task of finding their missing loved ones. "Disappearances" is the euphemism that reveals the faint glimmer of hope that remains among the kinfolk of persons who were abducted and likely killed.

According to Amnesty International, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have simply disappeared since the early 1980s. Despite the varied nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds of these victims, almost all of them had one thing in common: they were male.


For example, one Amnesty International report noted that "in August 1983, Iraqi forces arrested some 8,000 men and boys, aged between 8 and 70, from the Barzani clan near Arbil." In another case, "thousands of male members, including minors of those families who were deported to Iran, were arrested and detained."

A 2001 Amnesty report on torture in Iraqi likewise revealed the grim finding that the victims of Sadaam's torture machine were almost always male.

And this past May, Human Rights Watch released a report on The Mass Graves of al-Mahawil. The investigation noted that in 1991, Iraqi forces entered al-Shamali, where, according to one eyewitness account, "They chased and traced all the sons of my tribe." A tally provided by the local authorities revealed, "The vast majority of the victims appear to have been young men from the general area around al-Hilla."

Of the 2,600 bodies discovered near the village of al-Mahawil, it can be estimated that at least 90% of the victims were male. Anyone who doubts that statistic can visit the city squares around the country where grieving wives and mothers have plastered the photographs of the missing.

The point is, these persons were innocent civilians. And male.

So when the topic of gender oppression in Iraq comes up, why do people automatically think of women?

The answer can be found in newspapers like the Washington Post that have run a steady series of one-sided articles over the past two months on the mistreatment of Iraqi women -- but have remained silent on the elimination of innocent civilian men. Other examples of sex bias by the media were documented in a previous essay.

The answer can be found in recent reports from Human Rights Watch that deplore the rape or abduction of 25 women, but fail to ask why some 2,300 boys and men at al-Mahawil were singled out for elimination .

The answer can be found in bizarre statements by government officials like Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary at the State Department, who wrote in the Washington Post on July 2, 2003, "Now our first priority is also of greatest concern to Iraqi women themselves: security for them and their families."

Why the security of men was absent from Dobriansky's list of priorities is anybody's guess.

In a society that prides itself on enlightened concern for fairness and equality, sometimes we must sometimes ask ourselves unsettling questions.

The silent graves in far-away Iraq compel us to ask, Does a person's life count for less because he happens to be male?

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