The Guardian’s Mark Lattimer has written a gruesome and important piece about the situation of women in Iraq today, four and half years into a war in which they have lost nearly every fundamental freedom. Even worse, Lattimer explains in gory detail, they are now being subjected to the most brutal forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Whereas most conflicts involve murders and massacres of men and boys, Iraq’s war has given rise to increasingly common gendered targeting of women and girls for deaths so grim their descriptions leave me lightheaded.

They lie in the Sulaimaniyah hospital morgue in Iraqi Kurdistan, set out on white-tiled slabs. A few have been shot or strangled, some beaten to death, but most have been burned. One girl, a lock of hair falling across her half-closed eyes, could almost be on the point of falling asleep. Burns have stretched the skin on another young woman’s face into a fixed look of surprise.

I want to vomit. I want to grab the right wing warmongers who argued that invading Iraq would "liberate" it’s "oppressed women" and shake them senseless. This violent impulse comes from a place of profound frustration, anger, and shame. I am shaking with rage because the actions of my elected leaders led to the deaths and misery of my sisters. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to be punished for my own sins of omission. I want to turn back time.

In March 2004 George Bush said that "the advance of freedom in the Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women … the systematic use of rape by Saddam’s former regime to dishonour families has ended". This may have given some people the impression that the American and British invasion of Iraq had helped to improve the lives of its women. But this is far from the case.

Even under Saddam, women in Iraq – including in semi-autonomous Kurdistan – were widely recognised as among the most liberated in the Middle East. They held important positions in business, education and the public sector, and their rights were protected by a statutory family law that was the envy of women’s activists in neighbouring countries. But since the 2003 invasion, advances that took 50 years to establish are crumbling away. In much of the country, women can only now move around with a male escort. Rape is committed habitually by all the main armed groups, including those linked to the government. Women are being murdered throughout Iraq in unprecedented numbers

Surely we have passed the point at which the need for an international tribunal to deal out justice for the crimes committed by and against all sides in this war could still be a subject of debate. Investigations, prosecutions, and reparations won’t bring back the lives gone, but they can put the moral balance of the world a little less off kilter.

Furthermore, any kind of better future demands that there be a reckoning for these crimes inside and outside Iraq. The perpetrators on the individual murders and massacres, the men with literal blood on their hands, must face justice, but so too must the men who created the climate in which these crimes can be committed. Most members of this latter group today sit comfortably in the same Washington offices from which they set the wheels of Iraq’s death machine in motion. They must be made to face the consequences of their decisions. If impunity prevails, we are all lost.

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