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Iraqi women face disapproving family and safety fears serving as police officers in Ramadi
Several of Ramadi's first female police officers are on duty at the police station in south Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007. The U.S. military is recruiting men and women into the police force, anticipating fully turning over security responsibilities to Iraqis. Fourteen women have now joined those ranks in Ramadi. - photo by Associated Press
    RAMADI, Iraq — The women received their first paychecks a few weeks ago — about $500 for a month’s work as police officers. They paid rent, bought food, wiped out debts. But the seemingly simple transaction has left at least one woman in fear for her life, another threatened with divorce.
    The strict tribal and religious culture of Iraq’s particularly in its western Anbar province, strongly discourages women from working outside the home and brings shame on men who allow it.
    ‘‘Right now, our province is safe and peaceful. But anything could shake that up and we could be in danger,’’ says Genan, a 37-year-old mother of three who’s also seven months pregnant.
    She and four other women who graduated in early October from five days of police academy training agreed to speak to The Associated Press on the condition that only their first names be used for fear of reprisals. They are working in the west Ramadi police station.
    The U.S. military is recruiting men into the police force and military in droves, anticipating the day when Iraqis take full control of security responsibilities. That effort is going particularly well in the Anbar provincial capital, where the number of police officers has increased from less than 200 in the spring of 2006 to about 8,000 now. Fourteen Ramadi women have joined those ranks.
    When they learned recruits were being sought, Genan, Kadmia, 35, and Fatma, 27, said they jumped at the chance.
    ‘‘In Iraq, a woman’s job is to stay home and be a housewife. Men and women are not equal,’’ said Genan, the others nodding in agreement, as she tried to explain through a translator why she signed up. ‘‘It’s nothing like in the U.S.’’
    They also felt emboldened, they said, by seeing women among the U.S. troops patrolling and fighting in Ramadi’s streets.
    ‘‘They left their children at home, not a few houses away, but thousands of miles away,’’ Genan said. ‘‘If American women can do it, we can do it.’’
    The women had seen female insurgents blow themselves up with suicide vests. Some of those women were getting through security checkpoints because cultural and religious mores prohibit them from being searched by men. The new female recruits said they thought they could help to prevent such attacks.
    The recruits learn to fire several types of weapons including AK-47s, conduct searches, identify vehicles likely to contain explosives and spot suspicious people or activities. Right now, their role at their Ramadi station is limited to searching female visitors of jail inmates. Two days a week they pat down women at another downtown location. They spend much of their work day sequestered in a small windowless room with two couches, their cell phones and each other.
    Once the three made up their minds, they went to neighbors, knocked on doors and tried to persuade others to join. They ended up as a group of 14.
    Kadmia, who has two sons and three daughters, two of whom also joined the force, decided to make uniforms for the women. She altered the men’s long-sleeved light-blue shirts — making them fuller and longer — with an Iraqi police patch on the right sleeve. Skirts are ankle-length, slim, black or dark blue. They provided their own long black or light-blue headscarves.
    One of the trainers at the academy, 2nd Lt. Kristy Goddard, 29, of Oscaloosa, Iowa, said she and her colleagues weren’t ready for the women to be so well-prepared and enthusiastic.
    ‘‘They studied ahead of time,’’ she said. ‘‘They were way motivated. They knew there would be a lot of obstacles to overcome and they wanted to do it anyway.’’
    Goddard admits the U.S. military police cram about 12 weeks of education into a five-day course. The next class will be increased to eight days, using one of the female graduates to help train others.
    The women’s pay is equal to men’s, starting at about 785,000 dinars a month. In Ramadi, rent averages about 100,000 dinars or about $80 a month; feeding a family costs about 250,000 dinars or about $200 a month
    When they interact with their male colleagues — U.S. military troops still supervise the station — they maintain an air of professional composure, their faces betraying no emotion, but when they step into their ‘‘office’’ with a female reporter, they chatter energetically and rave about their new jobs and the accompanying sense of freedom.
    The women said their male colleagues treat them with respect, but probably gossip behind their backs.
    ‘‘I love what I’m doing now,’’ Fatma said. ‘‘Just like the men are protecting their country, I want to protect my country. That’s why I’m doing this.’’
    Even so, her family disapproves. She said six of her sisters, two brothers and most of her extended family won’t speak to her. Only her mother and one sister have anything to do with her. Her husband of seven years has threatened divorce.
    ‘‘’Either quit the job or divorce me,’ he said. I will pick the job,’’ she said.
    Another woman said she fears for her life after a photograph of the group was published in a local newspaper, even after the editor assured them it wouldn’t appear.
    The other women said their families, especially their husbands, were reluctant at first to see them working but have come around.
    Fatma says she earns more than her husband, who works temporary construction jobs. Genan said her husband doesn’t mind helping out with the three children, ages 3, 9 and 11.
    ‘‘They used to support us, now we’re just returning the favor,’’ Genan says.

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