Foreign Policy

Domestic Violence Reaches Epidemic Proportions in Iraq

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In a country where women are often considered second-class citizens and a man has the right to punish his wife with impunity, it's not hard to imagine domestic violence taking root. Such is the case in post-invasion Iraq.

Despite an increase in civil rights under the new regime, women have seen little improvement in their conditions at home. The UN estimates that one in five women in Iraq suffers from abuse at the hands of a family member, according to Al Jazeera.

Even in a country like the United States, where divorce is commonplace, abused spouses struggle to get out of abusive relationships. In Iraq, a woman leaving her husband is considered a crime and grounds for severe physical punishment.

One rights group estimates that cases of domestic violence have risen sharply since Saddam Hussein's ouster. They suspect that the destabilization caused by the U.S.-led invasion probably marginalized or even eradicated the limited social services previously available to Iraqi women.

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Further complicating matters, abused Iraqi women often face persecution from their own families. For many, there is literally nowhere to run. A few local groups have sprung up to deal with women's issues in their communities, but their resources are far too stretched to reach all the women in need of assistance.

Without more active intervention from Bagdad, Iraq's domestic violence problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.