Women Help Foil Female Suicide Bombers

12221552681302.jpgBy RICHARD TOMKINS (Middle East Times)

DALI ABBAS, Iraq — With female suicide bombers now a fixture in the continuing war in Iraq, U.S. authorities and their Iraqi counterparts are tapping women across the country as a counter-measure.
In the town of Dali Abbas, north of Muqdadiya in Diyala province, 15 women have just joined the rolls of citizen volunteers, helping local police guard government buildings and rolling medical clinics.

“This is a good step,” said Iraq Police (IP) Col. Mahmoud Tayeh Mahmoud. “It’s useful for our job. For example, their duty is to search the females. In our tradition it’s not allowed for males to search females, it’s good to prevent the suicide bombers from attacking us and it’s good for the security situation for the civilians.

“I could use 50 times more for nearby villages.”

The women, dubbed “Daughters of Iraq,” were recruited locally and are attached to “Sons of Iraq” guards and police units in Dali Abbas, a rural small town best described as a “county” seat in the Sherween district. No suicide vest bombers have yet to hit the community, but Mahmoud said there have been several attempts over the past year.

Muqdadiya, a large market town to the south, has already been attacked by female suicide bombers as has the provincial capital, Baqubah. In July, at least seven people were killed by a female suicide bomber in Khan Bani Saad. Also in July, 22 potential police recruits were killed by a female suicide bomber near Baqubah, while 20 people were killed and 30 wounded earlier this month in the village of Baladruz to the south of Baqubah. In each of the cases, the female bombers concealed the explosives in vests beneath their robes.

Nationwide there have more than two dozen such attacks by female bombers so far this year. Authorities say the targets are primarily Iraqi security forces and government office compounds, which are often filled with civilians.

Iraqi and U.S. authorities say suicide vest bombings are the hallmark of al-Qaida, which used Diyala province as a stronghold for its training camps and arms caches before being driven to its northern and eastern fringes by successive U.S. and Iraqi military operations. Remnants of the group continue to attempt to re-infiltrate the province proper, which had long been a main transit route south to Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

Col. Mahmoud said the women, like the U.S.-sponsored “Sons of Iraq” neighborhood volunteers, receive a monthly salary of about U.S. $300. They are not allowed to carry weapons, however, and are only allowed at the government facilities. So far there are no plans to expand their duties to include roadside checkpoints.

Also, the women do not wear uniforms or the identifying yellow reflective belts their male counterpart members wear when on duty.

The “Sons of Iraq,” formerly called “Concerned Local Citizens,” grew out of the Sunni “Awakening” councils in Anbar province and are credited as being a major factor in helping dampen violence throughout the country, where they now number more than 100,000.

The women volunteers in Dali Abbas, formed Aug. 12, are not new for Iraq. The “Sisters of Fallujah” were started in December in Anbar province to work with Iraqi security forces and U.S. Marines. In April, “Daughters of Iraq” made their appearance in the Baghdad area.

Female police are reported to number about 1,000 throughout the country, but the figure could not be immediately confirmed since the Ministry of Interior, in charge of the paramilitary Iraq Police, does not classify officers by gender. Overall, the IP force numbers about 299,000 people, with about 192,000 of them fully trained, according to figures released by the U.S. State Department.

U.S. military authorities said 21 female police trainees underwent a weapons certification course at a coalition force facility in Diyala province earlier this month as part of overall police training and more were scheduled to do so.

Col. Mahmoud said although the “Daughters of Iraq” were outside the norms of pre-war, female roles in Iraqi society, the people of Dali Abbas appear to accept it as a way of increasing their security. One female volunteer, however, did resign after a few days because of family pressure.