Context Although human rights abuses have been reported in Iraq, the full scope
of these abuses has not been well documented.
Objective To assess the prevalence of human rights abuses since 1991 in southern
Iraq, along with attitudes about women's health and human rights and women's
rights and roles in society, to inform reconstruction and humanitarian assistance
efforts in Iraq.
Design Cross-sectional, randomized survey of Iraqi men and women conducted
in July 2003 using structured questionnaires.
Setting Three major cities in 3 of the 9 governorates in southern Iraq.
Participants A total of 1991 respondents representing 16 520 household members.
Main Outcome Measures Respondent demographics, information on human rights abuses that occurred
among household members since 1991, women's health and human rights, opinions
regarding women's rights and roles in society, and conditions for community
health and development.
Results Respondents were a mean age of 38 years and were mostly of Arab ethnicity
(99.7% [1976/1982]) and Muslim Shi'a (96.7% [1906/1971]). Overall, 47% of
those interviewed reported 1 or more of the following abuses among themselves
and household members since 1991: torture, killings, disappearance, forced
conscription, beating, gunshot wounds, kidnappings, being held hostage, and
ear amputation, among others. Seventy percent of abuses (408/586) were reputed
to have occurred in homes. Baath party regime-affiliated groups were identified
most often (95% [449/475]) as the perpetrators of the abuses; 53% of the abuses
occurred between 1991 and 1993, following the Shi'a uprising, and another
30% between 2000 and the first 6 months of 2003. While the majority of men
and women expressed support for women's equal opportunities for education,
freedom of expression, access to health care, equality in deciding marriage
and the number and spacing of children, and participation in community development
decisions, there was less support among both men and women for women's freedom
of movement, association with people of their choosing, and rights to refuse
sex. Half of women and men (54% and 50%, respectively) reported agreeing that
a man has the right to beat his wife if she disobeys. Fifty-three percent
of respondents reported that there were reasons to restrict educational opportunities
for women at the present time and 50% reported that there were reasons to
restrict work opportunities for women at the present time.
Conclusions Nearly half of participating households in 3 southern cities in Iraq
reported human rights abuses among household members between 1991 and 2003.
The households surveyed supported a government that will protect and promote
human rights, including the rights of women. However, currently, neither men
nor women appear to support a full range of women's human rights.