‘After the 2003 war, women are no longer safe in Iraq’

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Haifa Zangana | Author & Political Activist
Haifa Zangana, Author & Political Activist Photo: Ishan Tankha

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

What role did your early years play in shaping your politics and ideas?

I was born in a rich family and my father had a library of his own. We lived in Baghdad, but used to go to Kurdistan regularly for vacations. While my other siblings used to assist my parents, I would read whatever I could find. My family knew I was a weird kid, but they let me read and encouraged my passion for writing. I think that is why I became the person I am today. This helped me to understand the world around me. Naturally, my heart was always inclined towards the deprived.

What motivated you to join the communists at a very young age?

I was seven when Iraq got freedom from the British and I saw everyone — Arabs, Muslims and Kurds — united in those freedom celebrations. The 1959 revolution marked our lives and gave us that one moment of united Iraq. But then the Ba’ath regime came to power and I wanted to support a party that would be on the side of the deprived. So, communism was a natural choice for me.

You were among the few intellectuals who were arrested and tortured for opposing the Ba’ath regime. You have also been a vocal critic of the US-British invasion of Iraq. So what were you and the communists fighting against before 2003 and how did your agenda change?

In the mid-1980s, we started fighting for political freedom because we were not allowed to show dissent. We protested for education, employment and health services. But soon the Iraq-Iran war started and patriotic feelings overshadowed internal struggles. Thousands of men were killed. The country was full of widows and orphans. Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the sanctions followed. Iraq was cut off from the world for 13 years. We crashed economically and psychologically. After the 2003 invasion, we were fighting a completely different enemy. Criticising a political party and fighting a proxy government formed by foreign invaders are two different things. Now, the people are fighting to expel the invaders and debunk the lie that the new regime has protected their rights.

You wrote in The Guardian that ‘In Iraq, women’s rights is an absurd discourse chewing on meaningless words’. Can you explain this in the context of the women’s situation before and after the occupation?

Iraq has always been progressive when it came to women. Earlier, we had a large number of female doctors and engineers. A lot of girls would go to school and attend universities. During the Iraq-Iran war, many women started going to work because the men were at the war front. The 2003 invasion made life worse for women. Now, women stay home because they are raped, looted or shot if they step out. When I was a student, we could be out on the roads of Baghdad until 2 am, but now it’s very unsafe.

Looking back, what do you identify as the nucleus of your work and your core aspiration?

Unless the US and Europe change their racist foreign policy towards the Middle East, especially Iraq, nothing is going to change. We are committed to the struggle of our people and our land.

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