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Rape allegations create growing uproar in Iraq

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When I was working on Iraq, it was often difficult to predict which events would cause an uproar and which would simply fade away. The Iraqi rumor mill is so potent, with so many horrific stories and accusations already making their way through the population of the country, that Iraqis often reacted to atrocities (or accusations thereof) with a kind of "we already knew that" fatalism. Hundreds of people unjustly detained and tortured by the Interior Ministry? Little reaction; everybody already knew that stuff was going on. Assassinations of major leaders? Not unexpected, rumors had a price on his head for months. Etc. Not to say that such events weren't sigificant, just that we sometimes thought they would have greater political fallout than they actually did.

But the one thing that we always knew would incite an absolute frenzy -- more than killing or torturing or political marginalization or anything else we could think of -- was rape. The alleged rape and murder of a woman (and three other members of her family) is creating shockwaves throughout the country, not just among the masses, but within elite political circles as well. In in honor-based society, particularly one with the history and sensitivity regarding colonialism and violation that Iraq has, the image of an occupier raping and killing a woman is beyond devastating. Even more so because some reports have the woman as young as 16 (though the official investigation says 25).

Prime Minister Maliki is reportedly calling for a review of the current immunity for U.S. forces in Iraq, and wants Iraqis to be part of the investigation into the allegations. Also, to the best of my knowledge, there's no status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, which creates a very weird legal status issue because we technically turned over sovereignty a long time ago. In any case, this scandal will likely have more of an effect than any other since Abu Ghraib, and right now there are still far more questions than answers.

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