At least 51 people were killed on Sunday, most of them Islamic State (IS) terrorists, in clashes, air strikes and gun battles across Iraq, security sources said.
In Anbar province, the army artillery pounded IS positions in Saggara area near the city of Haditha, some 200 km northwest of Baghdad, and left 26 IS terrorists killed, a provincial security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the security forces and allied Sunni militias repelled sporadic attacks by IS terrorists on military positions in three villages and Alous area near the IS-held city of Heet, some 160 km west of the capital, killing 15 IS rebels, the source said.
At least 10 people were killed and 19 others wounded in air strikes by Iraqi aircraft on several districts in the IS-seized city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of the Iraqi capital, the source added.
Since March 2, security forces and thousands of allied Shiite and Sunni militias have been involved in Iraq’s biggest offensive in order to recapture from IS terrorists the northern part of Salahudin province, including Tikrit and other key towns and villages.
The security situation in Iraq has drastically deteriorated since June last year, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and IS terrorists.
The IS took control of the country’s northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.
Iraq has been witnessing some of the worst violence in years. Terrorism and violence have killed at least 12,282 civilians and wounded 23,126 others in 2014, according to a UN report.
Dark skies were threatening rain over an Iraqi Kurdistan village, but one woman refused to budge from outside a house where two girls were at risk of female genital mutilation.
“I know you’re home! I just want to talk,” called out Kurdistan Rasul, 35, a pink headscarf forming a sort of halo around her plump features.
For many, she is an angel — an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the Germany-based nonprofit Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation (WADI), on a crusade to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM, in which a girl or woman’s genitals are cut or removed, was once extremely common in the Kurdish region, but WADI’s campaigning has reduced the practice.
Rasul, who herself was cut at a young age, is helping to eradicate FGM in the village of Sharboty Saghira, east of the regional capital, Irbil.
She has visited 25 times, challenging its imam on perceptions FGM is mandated by Islam and warning midwives about infections and emotional trauma.
That morning, she used the mosque’s minaret to vaguely invite villagers to discuss their health. When eight women entered the mosque, she patiently described FGM’s dangers.
At the end, a thin woman approached Rasul and said her neighbor was planning to mutilate her two toddlers
That sent Rasul clambering up the muddy pathway to the house, first knocking, then frantically demanding to be allowed in.
But the door remained shut.
“We are changing people’s convictions. That’s why it’s so hard,” Rasul told AFP, reluctantly walking away.
‘Just a child’
FGM appears to have been practiced for decades in Iraq’s Kurdish region, usually known for more progressive stances on women’s rights.
Victims are usually between 4 and 5 years old but are affected for years by bleeding, extremely reduced sexual sensitivity, tearing during childbirth, and depression.
The procedure can prove fatal, with some girls dying from blood loss or infection.
After years of campaigning, Kurdish authorities banned FGM under a 2011 domestic violence law, slapping perpetrators with up to three years in prison and a roughly $80,000 fine.
The numbers have dropped steadily since.
In 2014, a U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) survey found 58.5 percent of women in the Kurdish region had been mutilated.
This year, UNICEF found a lower rate: 37.5 percent of girls aged 15-49 in the Kurdish region had undergone FGM.
It compares with less than 1 percent across the rest of Iraq, which has no FGM legislation.
“She cut me, I was hurt and cried,” said Shukriyeh, 61, of the day her mother mutilated her more than 50 years ago.
“I was just a child. How could I be angry at my mother?”
Shukriyeh’s six daughters, the youngest of whom is 26, have all been cut, too. But with so much campaigning against FGM, they have declined to do the same to their girls.
Years ago, Zeinab, 38. allowed female relatives to cut her eldest daughter, then 3.
“I was so scared that I stayed far away and came to wash her after they cut her,” she recalled, squirming.
After WADI’s sessions, she protected her other two daughters from mutilation.
“At the time I accepted [it], but now I wouldn’t. Yes, I regret it. But what can I do now?”
‘Women against women’
Rasul told AFP it was hard to combat a form of gender-based violence that women themselves practiced.
“Young men and women agree FGM should stop. But after we leave a village, older women talk to them and tell them: ‘Be careful, that NGO wants to spread problems,’ ” she said.
UNICEF’s 2014 survey found 75 percent of women saw their own mothers as the most supportive of cutting.
“I tell these women: This is violence that you’re carrying out with your own hands — women against women,” said Rasul.
That proximity has also made FGM victims less likely to seek justice.
“The 2011 law isn’t being used because girls won’t file a complaint against their mothers or fathers,” said Parwin Hassan, who heads the Kurdish Regional Government’s anti-FGM unit.
Hassan has wanted to work on the issue since she narrowly escaped it: Her mother pulled her away from their midwife after a last-minute change of heart.
“I’ve been working on women’s issues since 1991, but this is the most painful for me. That’s why I promised to eradicate it completely,” she told AFP.