December 29th, 2005
Mandana Hendessi sent me this email in response to my article The Sex Lives and Sexual Frustrations of US troops in Iraq: An Ocean of Ignorance [posted with permission]:
I stumbled across your article “The Sex Lives and Sexual Frustration of US Troops in Iraq” today which plunged me into dismay and sorrow. The brothel in the Green Zone was never intended to be such. Far from it, I set it up as a shelter for victims of family and tribal violence in February 2004 towards the end of my stint in Baghdad as the gender advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority.
I am so heartbroken to have realised that the rumours are actually true. In February I waged a campaign here in the UK, on hearing about the closure of the shelter by Iraq’s interim president, Ghazi al-Yawar. Although at first it appeared that the president’s intention was to annexe the house to his collection of properties in the Green Zone, leaked emails later showed that the house was taken over because it was being used as a brothel by American soldiers. The Iraqi interim government and the White House seemingly colluded to ensure that this scandal wouldn’t become another Abu Ghraib by suppressing the news.
I was wondering if you have more information about this.
In a further email she responded to my question as to why she assumed the two brothels, her shelter and the one reported by Patrick Cockburn. were the same:
I somehow have this deep suspicion that it is the same house because it offered a good cover for such misdeeds, under the guise of a women’s shelter, with everywhere else being under the careful scrutiny of the US Army. Furthermore, this house was out of the view, tucked away on the outskirts of the Zone – out of sight, out of mind.
Following the annexation of the house and the eviction of the residents (whether prostitutes or victims of domestic abuse) in Feb, I cited leaked confidential emails from the then president’s wife (wife no.3 – he is shamefully polygamous) to the State Department about the house falling into disrepute and therefore requiring drastic action. I also heard similar reports from a Muslim charity in the UK which had provided funding to furnish the shelter. They also noted with shock and awe the sudden disappearance of the director of the so-called charity running the project, shortly after the shelter was closed. It’s all very horrible and sinister.
But such has been the fate of poor Iraq and Iraqi people. And you are right, the women’s situation in the New Iraq is woefully no better than under Saddam, despite all the efforts, notably by Iraqi women’s rights activists with dreams of Nirvana.
Strangely enough, I am in the process of writing a book on my six-month stint in Iraq. Yes, the story must be told and explored in all its dichotomy – the war-torn Iraq was tumultous and violent as well as innocent, charming, beautiful and generous. There was an opportunity for building a just and democratic society on the ruins of war and dictatorship which was woefully squandered by friends and foes.