- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2004

The participation of female soldiers in the mistreatment of Iraqi men at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was probably the most dangerous aspect of the affair, Arab and American experts on Islam said yesterday.

They warned of reprisals by the victims’ tribes as a possible religious obligation.

“In our faith it is strictly forbidden to have women confront naked men,” said Sheik Muhammad Muhammad Ali, a leading Shi’ite scholar. “And I know that even in America this is not considered normal.”

Until the outbreak of the war in Iraq, Mr. Ali was the only Muslim cleric in the Leadership Council of the London-based Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi.

Mr. Ali said he had been to Washington hundreds of times during the past decade, trying to warn officials in the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligence community of the religious sensitivities in his country.

“I knocked at so many doors so many times, but nobody wanted to listen to me. Nobody was interested in religious or women’s issues,” he said.

Mr. Ali said a more sensitive administration would not have put a female general in charge of thousands of male prisoners, explaining that this “is simply not acceptable in our culture.”

American academics echoed Mr. Ali’s comments.

“To entertain the notion of having women jailers and interrogators deal with Muslim men is just begging for trouble,” said Douglas M. Johnston, president of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, a Washington think tank. “But nobody asked me for my advice.”

Antony T. Sullivan of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan said it was “grossly insulting to Muslims” to have a woman participate in the humiliation of prisoners.

Mr. Sullivan, considered a leading Islamic affairs specialist in the nation, suggested that having women inflict pain and humiliation on Iraqi prisoners might have been a calculated form of psychological warfare.

“This had to be a conscious policy to add the element of shame to the physical pain inflicted on Iraqis. To Muslim Arabs, it would have been inconceivable to be placed in that degree of vulnerability before a woman,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan warned that the tribes and extended families of the injured parties may feel obliged to avenge the victims, whose shame has been broadcast worldwide.

“What if a major Sunni tribe decided to take reprisals against America, or American prisoners?” Mr. Sullivan said. “I certainly would not want to be an American hostage in Iraq right now.”



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