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Baghdad bombing highlights the difficulty of gender in Iraqi society

On Sunday, a suicide bombing in Baghdad killed Faruq al-Obaida, Deputy leader of the Awakening Council of Adamiya. In total, at least 15 were killed and almost 30 wounded. Awakening Councils, locally organized and US-financed militias, are largely credited with the reduction of Sunni-affiliated violence around Baghdad. It is not surprising that these organizations are often targeted by al-Qaeda sympathizers and insurgents due to their pro-Coalition, anti-fundamentalist stance. What is more significant is that this attack appears to be carried out by a male terrorist disguised in women's clothing.

Female suicide bombers have become a growing security threat throughout Iraq. The formalities and religious requirements of Iraqi society make it far easier for women bombers to bypass security checkpoints, avoid physical searches, and conceal explosives in loose-fitted clothing. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist elements have exploited these vulnerabilities as Iraqi security services have become increasingly competent in combating previous tactics. In response, the Iraqi government has launched new "Daughters of Iraq' programs around the country. These organizations not only employ female security personnel at various checkpoints, but also focus on community outreach towards women who fit in to demographics easily exploited by Islamic fundamentalists (those who lost family members to American forces in particular).

"Daughters of Iraq' is beginning to yield results, but the attacks of Sunday remind us that terrorists are not ignorant of the societies within which they exist and operate. Both Al-Jazeera and Pakistan's The Post are reporting that the bombing was carried out by a man dressed in women's clothing, possibly wearing a pregnancy suit to conceal the explosives. This is interesting in that it demonstrates that terrorists are not using female suicide bombers out of desperation or a lack of willing male recruits, but because they understand the intricacies of Islamic society and are willing to exploit these vulnerabilities. Women are not "the last resort' as Coalition officials would like to believe, but a preferred option. The exploitation of a particular society's weakness is something terrorist organizations rely upon. In the west, they exploit the ideals of open society, free speech, and due process. In Iraq, they exploit the sensitivities of gender relations and etiquette. What is difficult is the extent to which any culture is willing to renegotiate these values or exchange principles for security. This dilemma is no stranger to America, and now Iraq.



Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;


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