US State Department Rejects Visa Applications of Iraqi Women Whose Families Were Killed by US Troops

02/15/2006

Washington, DC – Two Iraqi women whose husbands and children were killed by US troops during the Iraq war have been refused entry into the United States for a speaking tour. The women were invited to the US for peace events surrounding international women’s by the human rights group Global Exchange and the women’s peace group CODEPINK.

In a piece of painful irony, the reason given for the rejection was that the women don’t have enough family in Iraq to prove that they’ll return to the country. “It’s appalling that the US military killed these women’s families and then the US government rejects their visas on the grounds that they have no family to return to in Iraq. These women have no desire to stay in the United States. We had a very hard time convincing them to come, but we told them how important it would be for their stories to be heard by Americans,” said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of both the groups that had invited the women to the US.

The women whose visa applications were rejected are Anwar Kadhim Jawad and Vivian Salim Mati. They had to make a dangerous journey to Amman, Jordan just to apply for the visas and were told on February 4th that they’d been rejected. On February 14th, CODEPINK was informed by the US State Department that the women “failed to overcome the presumption of intending to emigrate.” But the group suspects that other factors influenced the State Department’s decision. “I remember how we all cried when we heard Anwar tell her story about losing her husband and three of her children,” said Jodie Evans of CODEPINK, who met with Anwar in 2004 in Baghdad. “If the American people heard these stories, their image of the Iraq war would be completely different. I suppose that’s why the state department does not want her to come here.”

Anwar’s husband and their four children were driving down the road from their house in Baghdad one day when they were suddenly caught in a hail of bullets from US soldiers. There was no checkpoint and no warning before their car was attacked. Anwar's husband, son and two daughters were shot dead. Only Anwar, who was pregnant at the time, and her 14-year-old daughter, survived. The US Army compensated her with $11,000, but her loss is incalculable and her grief immeasurable.

As Anwar told Susan Galleymore, a US military mother who visited Iraq in 2004, “In my family, like many Iraqi families, the husband takes care of all the family business. My job is to care for the well being of the family inside the house while my husband’s job is to care for every thing else. This is the way we do it in Iraq. Now, I have no husband. I have no income. I have no house anymore. I live with my parents and these two children. Everything else is gone. I will never recover.”

Vivian Salim Mati, the other woman whose visa was rejected, lost her husband and children when they decided to flee their home when the US military began bombing their neighborhood three days after they first entered Baghdad. Vivian grabbed their children and jumped in the car. Her husband was driving, and their three children were sitting in the back. They were driving down a side street when they crossed paths with a US tank. The US soldier atop the tank began shooting at them. Vivian's husband and three children were killed right away. Vivian was hurt but still alive. She got out of the car, screaming, 'Help! Help!', but the soldiers just kept shooting. Miraculously, Vivian survived but she carries her grief with her every day.

CODEPINK and Global Exchange had hoped to bring Anwar and Vivian to the United States for women’s peace events to take place in New York City and Washington, DC around International Women’s Day. The women would have spoken at public events and met with policy makers and newspaper editorial boards. In Washington, DC on March 8th, the Iraqi women would have joined with US women who lost loves ones in the war, including Cindy Sheehan, in a Women Say No to War march. At the end of the march, the women would have delivered thousands of signatures to the White House from women around the world who signed the Women Say No to War urgent petition for peace, which calls for an end to the Iraq war and all Iraqi civilians in 2006.

CODEPINK and Global Exchange are asking people to contact the US State Department to urge them to reverse the decision and grant visas to the Iraqi women. For more information, see www.womensaynotowar.org

HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOS of Anwar Kadhim Jawad and Vivian Salim Mati are available from andrea@globalexchange.org.

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CONTACT: Medea Benjamin (415) 235-6517 Gael Murphy (202) 412-6700