Iraqi women take up arms

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BAGHDAD — While most Iraqi women live in fear of terrorists and criminals, one small band of women has taken up arms and is prepared to fight back.

Employed by a private security company, the women ride in the front passenger seat posing as ordinary housewives when the company’s drivers transport customers around the city in nondescript vehicles.

But their firearms are always close at hand, and they are trained to respond with force if they come under attack.

During a recent training exercise, three cars screeched to a stop in the middle of a Baghdad street, sending up clouds of dust. Four men and women leapt out and dropped to their knees, shouldering guns to confront a team of masked men hiding behind cars and light posts.

“Good, good,” shouted Boulos Karam as he strode around in the morning sun, checking out their positions and offering a few words of quiet instruction to one woman in a head scarf.

“They did well,” Mr. Karam said later, sweat dripping onto his dark glasses and camouflage vest. “I changed the position of the ‘insurgent,’ and they saw it and stopped and reacted.”

Like others interviewed for this article, Mr. Karam insisted on being identified only by a pseudonym for reasons of security. Such are the risks of attack in Baghdad that even Western-owned security companies fear any publicity that could make them targets.

“Everything is a danger here, a parked car, a man just standing by the side of the street,” said Mr. Karam, looking out over a landscape of razor wire, concrete barriers, dust and trash that mark Baghdad’s streets after two years of near-daily bombings.

But even as the violence shuts down many avenues to a normal life, for Rana, 35, Xena 31, Muna, 26 and Assal, 24, it has created the possibility of a good paying job and living on equal terms with Iraqi men.

“Before I got into this, I was like a normal female; when I heard bullets, I would hide,” said Muna, a stocky young woman in a black T-shirt and black pants.

“Now, I feel like a man. When I hear a bullet, I want to know where it came from,” she said, sitting comfortably with an AK-47 assault rifle across her legs, red toenails poking out from a pair of stacked sandals. “Now I feel equal to my husband.”

If the work provides personal fulfillment for Muna, her colleague Assal — a divorced mother — sees it as a cause.

“I have seen a lot of innocent people die,” she said, staring out with intense black eyes. “We are trying to defend ourselves and defend each other. I am doing this for my country.”

Like many Iraqis, she has no idea what the future will bring.

“I see today, I don’t see tomorrow,” she said, voicing a common refrain.

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