Iraq's sectarian violence leaves widows to suffer

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The Independent Online

When Wadah Abid al-Emear feared his meeting would overrun, he asked his wife to go ahead of him to prepare for Eid.

The couple planned to leave Baghdad and head back to her Kurdish home town of Shaklawa for the celebrations. Hours later, as he followed behind, Mr Emear, 42, was dragged from his car by insurgents, tortured, mutilated and murdered - his body left at the roadside.

Today Dunea Ramez, 31, sits alone in what was her husband's favourite room of the house he designed himself. The windows are enlarged to give the best view of the mountains he adored. Clad in black and leading a now isolated life, she has at times been so despondent she contemplated killing herself along with her seven-year-old son, Kefah.

She is still not entirely sure what the motive was behind her husband's death. The family believes Baathist insurgents were responsible but, like so many murders in Iraq today, the killers have never been found.

Yesterday afternoon a group of Iraqi women held a silent vigil to mark International Widow's Day on the steps of St Martin in the Fields at Trafalgar Square in London.

The protest is designed to highlight the plight of countless widows in Iraq and demand an end to violence by the occupying forces and sectarian insurgents, as well as to win public financial support for women and children left without income.

Their protest will coincide with an International Widow's Day Conference hosted by the Loomba Trust - a charity that works to educate children of poor widows in India - and opened by its president, Cherie Blair.It will be followed by a Bollywood concert in Trafalgar Square. "While we do not want to discredit the Loomba Trust organising the concert, we hope to make the point that Iraqis and the British public hold Cherie Blair's husband responsible for the creation of thousands of Iraqi widows," said the organiser Houzan Mahmoud.

With exact figures for the number of Iraqi casualties still mired in confusion, Mrs Ramez is just one of tens of thousands of widows created by the current conflict in a country which had already lost many husbands and fathers in previous wars.

She was a teacher in her Kurdish homeland when the man who would become her husband - an engineer who had taken up the political fight against Saddam Hussein's regime - fled Baghdad and moved to Shaklawa. She was immediately impressed by the fact this Shia Arab from Karbala, spoke fluent Kurdish, and understood and respected the culture. They married and had a son.

"She liked the fact he was so open-minded, courageous, a down-to-earth man - a simple leader. He was a rare man," explained a friend, Shatha Besarani.

When Saddam Hussein was deposed, the family returned to the capital so he could restart his political career, becoming a member in the new parliament.

"I said to her, 'Are you not afraid for your life; for your child's life?' But she said: 'If my husband would be in danger I would like to be with him.' She is a brave woman," said Dr Besarani.

"And he was a rare man in Iraq. He treated her like an equal. He would come home and prepare the watermelon and cheese, talk to her in Kurdish not Arab. She never imposed that on him but he loved her, she was so much the queen of his heart."

Unlike many of his fellow political leaders, he loathed the thought of the fortified Green Zone and his family lived modestly in Baghdad. When her husband's working hours became too long, Mrs Ramez would take Kefah to the office so he could see his son.

"Wadah was one of these courageous people who always stood up in parliament and spoke about the right things. He was very determined Iraq one day would be a very beautiful place to live," said Dr Besarani.

After his death in November 2004, Mrs Ramez moved back in with her parents and sister in Shaklawa. She was determined to finish the house in the town they had planned and did so with donations from friends. Today it is adorned with pictures of her husband. His favourite mountain-view room remains locked.

Nineteen months on, she has yet to receive any widow's pension but considers herself lucky compared to most in Iraq. With the reintroduction, post invasion, of the Islamic tradition of passing a man's wealth to surviving male members of his family, she could have been left penniless. But Mr Emear's brother was kind and immediately signed over the inheritance to her.

Nevertheless, life for her has ended. Even her seven-year-old son understands that a woman's place is nothing without a man and he tries naïvely to introduce her to strangers, much to her embarrassment.

Even in her own home she must always wear black and knows she will suffer the wrath of militants if she disobeys. The few hours a week she emerges are to teach but she has been told she must give up her job.

"A woman with no man is like a tree without any water in Iraq at the moment. You cannot relax, you cannot go out, you cannot wear make-up. She must wear black," said Dr Besarani. "When she heard she would have to give up her job, she said it was another isolation.

"She hates the invasion, she hates everything. She cannot enjoy any life. Seven months ago she said to me, 'I am going to kill myself and my child'. She is better now but life is still difficult, unbearable."