BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government has ordered all policewomen to hand in their guns for redistribution to men or face having their pay withheld, thwarting a U.S. initiative to bring women into the nation’s police force.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, issued the order late last month, according to ministry documents, U.S. officials and several of the women. It affects all officers who have earned the title “policewoman” by graduating from the police academy. It does not apply to men in the same type of jobs.
Critics say the move is the latest sign of the religious and cultural conservatism that has taken hold in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s ouster ushered in a government dominated by Shiite Muslims. Now, that tendency is hampering efforts to bring stability to Iraq by driving women from the force, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, who has led the effort to recruit female officers.
“We nursed it along,” he said last week, referring to the recruiting effort. “We saw this as: ‘If we could get 50% of the brain power in this country that is not being utilized engaged, how much further along would we be?’ “
Policewomen say the decree also will leave them unable to protect themselves at work or off duty. Scores of police employees, both officers and administrative workers, have been killed by insurgents. Men and women have traditionally been allowed to carry their Glock pistols with them after hours for security.
[T]he pistol recall was the latest in a series of moves that has limited most policewomen to desk jobs. The few who have worked on the streets have been reassigned to administrative tasks.
Iraqi law still prevents policewomen from advancing to commanding-officer levels. Phillips said women have complained to him about limited opportunities and harassment by male colleagues.