A US terrorism expert has revealed that suicide attacks by women in Iraq are bound to increase in the coming days because of the terrorists' increasing reliance on women bombers.
"Between January and April, there were 12 suicide attacks by women in Iraq. That marks an exponential increase," Farhana Ali, a US international policy analyst of Pakistani origin, told AFP after a symposium on terrorism at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in Washington.
Twelve women carried out suicide attacks in Iraq in the first few months of this year compared with 11 between 2003 and 2007, according to Ali.
"So long as this conflict continues, you will see greater instability in Iraq and women will be greatly victimized -- you will see more women in Iraq choose suicide terrorism in the next few months," she predicted, adding that she had warned US officials and policy makers of the threat since 2005.
"It's only in the past two months that we have given serious attention to this issue. Why? Because female attackers in Iraq are hurting our efforts for peace and stability in that country," she said.
Ali, who worked as an adviser to the US government before joining the private sector as an international policy analyst, blamed the rise in female suicide bombers largely on the marginalization of Iraqi women since the US invasion in 2003.
"Iraqi women, slowly, over the course of the conflict have been marginalized," she told AFP.
"They were at the forefront of their society. They were in the Iraqi cabinet, in government, in NGOs. We stripped them of those opportunities.
"Many have left but those who stayed behind are also victims of rape and torture and kidnapping. So they are being victimized twice," she said.
"Women use attacks as a protest. In Iraq, they are protesting at the loss of their men, the loss of their society and the loss of their country," said Ali.
In a presentation given to several hundred mental healthcare practitioners and a handful of reporters at the American Psychiatric Association meeting, which runs until Thursday, Ali warned that US soldiers face a cultural barrier in detecting women bombers.
"A marine officer coming back from Fallujah said to me: 'How are we supposed to detect these women if we are taught before we are deployed to not even look at them?'" she explained.
Some Iraqi women may have been coerced into carrying out suicide attacks, but the greater danger comes from those who choose to blow themselves up, said Ali.
"Iraq is a country of widows ... when women are vulnerable and have to protect themselves and play the role of the man and woman of the household, they are easily exploitable," she said.
"But we can't assume that all Iraqi women suicide attackers are exploited and recruited. We have to ask how many women are doing this because they want to -- that's the more serious question."
Ali suggested ways of dissuading Iraqi women from carrying out suicide attacks, including empowering more women and forging US-Iraqi alliances with them.
"If you want to gain entrance into female jihadi organisations, you need female case officers. You need female police officers. You need women in Iraqi law enforcement," she said.
"Most US commanders see Iraq as a very male society, and our military is creating alliances with tribes," said Ali, adding that she has warned since 2005 of the dangers posed by women suicide attackers.
"But women are half of any society, and so we have to nurture the women if we are to have a stable society," she added.
Some 19,000 psychiatrists and other health practitioners are expected to attend the American Psychiatric Association meeting, where the psychological traumas of war and school violence are high on the agenda of items to be discussed.