Layla is one of 120 graduating ‘daughters of Iraq’, an organization of women created by the U.S army in mid-2008 to combat the increased number of female suicide bombers hitting Diyala province. During their training these women have learnt how to fight and use weapons, as well as how to inspect, detain and raid women’s homes.
The move comes in response to a dramatic increase in the number of female attacks on security forces. Over the past two years, Diyala has witnessed more than 27 suicide bombings carried out by women wearing explosive belts, killing dozens of civilians, security and awakening forces.
To date only 12 women have been arrested and three female-recruitment cells broken up by security forces.
But Colonel Samir al-Shammari, who coordinates security issues between local forces and the ‘daughters of Iraq’, says the women fighters have made a crucial difference in preventing female suicide attacks. “The organization has been effective in stopping suicide attacks," he said.
Layla, who lost her husband during the sectarian violence in 2006, said that the number of female recruits is increasingly significantly as single women seek out “jobs to support their families and children."
According to al-Shammari, “preference is given to female widows whose husbands were killed by terrorist groups and to poor women because this opportunity allows them to make a monthly salary of U.S $300."
However, at the same time, observers acknowledge that these same hard conditions have pushed other women towards violent extremism. “In the past two years, Diyala has become the main source of women suicide bombers,” said Layla as she described the hardship that afflicts many women in the province.
Zaynab Mahmoud, who is responsible for preparing and implementing training courses for women volunteers, said that “armed groups have been able to exploit women’s ignorance, poverty, Jihadi fatwas and other theories to convince women to carry out suicide attacks.” She said that "investigations with detained women who are responsible for suicide bomber cells confirm that the women of Diyala, especially those who live in the districts, lack proper education and awareness. It is for these reasons that these women believe that what they are doing is what God and Islam want them to do.”
Another ‘daughters of Iraq’, who refused to give her name and to lift the veil covering her face, told Niqash that the ‘daughters of Iraq’ have successfully challenged local customs. “Women have started to play a prominent role in relation to the security situation and in protecting citizens - the same role usually only played by men,” she said. As the number of recruits has increased and they have proved themselves worthy of the task, they have gained local acceptance she said.
Even so, now that these women have graduated, they will face a different and far more daunting challenge than confronting local customs. Intent on bringing stability to their province, these women will now join the front-line battle that continues to rage across Iraq.