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'Disgusting': Iraqi paper depicts Kurdistan as woman facing rape

Kurdish MPs have condemned the image as 'disgusting' and threatened legal action against Al-Nahar newspaper
Screenshot of Al-Nahar newspaper (Al-Nahar)

Iraqi Kurds have reacted with outrage to an Arabic newspaper splash which appeared to show male models representing five countries preparing to sexually assault a woman representing Kurdistan.

The Iraqi Al-Nahar newspaper published the image on its front page on Tuesday, depicting Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Jordan - all countries with large Kurdish populations - as five black men standing over a white woman.

The image came a day after Iraqi Kurds voted to secede from Iraq, a move which has drawn anger from neighbouring countries and Iraqis.

Kurdish MPs condemned the image on Thursday, also arguing it justified their desire to break away from Iraq.

“Our two different cultures is one of the reasons behind our separation. The publishing of this image unmasks their real face," Shakhawan Abdullah, the deputy head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) faction in the Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw.

"It shows how they eye our women, honour, territory and wealth. They showed this in practice during the Anfal campaign and in the assaulting of the Yazidi women."

Publishing this meme amounts to a declaration of war against the Kurdistan region. We will be filing a lawsuit against this paper

- Shirn Raza, Kurdish MP 

Shirn Raza, an MP for the anti-corruption Gorran party, said she was not surprised to see such images coming from Iraq.

“We strongly condemn this disgusting action. Showing disrespect to women and this very action is expected from them,” she said. 

“Publishing this meme amounts to a declaration of war against the Kurdistan region. We will be filing a lawsuit against this paper."

Users on social media also expressed their outrage:

Rasha al-Aqeedi, an Iraqi writer, wrote that the implication of the image reflected the historical use of sexual assault as a means of inflicting psychological terror.

"Rape has historically been a deliberate military strategy to terrorise societies and to defeat and break the other side by hurting their honour, making rape or even the threat of military rape a broad strategy of psychological warfare," she wrote on the Alhurra website.

"Its last use was in Iraq when thousands of Yazidis were assaulted. They were assaulted by armed men after the slaughter of their men, and they raped them in the name of religion. What prompts the editor of Al-Nahar newspaper to hint at the Kurds being raped, in the name of the homeland?"

Following the referendum, in which 92 percent voted for independence, Baghdad demanded control of Kurdistan's airports and border crossings and said it would impose a flight ban on the region starting Friday.

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Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces have both fought to push IS back since the militants overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014.

Kurdish forces have also availed themselves of the opportunity the war offered to gain or solidify control over northern territory claimed by both them and Baghdad.

The issue of borders and territorial control would be a major source of contention if Iraqi Kurdistan decided to move forward with independence.

Turkey, Iran and Syria - neighbouring countries that also have substantial Kurdish populations - have like Baghdad come out against Kurdish independence, adding a regional dimension to the dispute.

Jordan, which has around 30,000 Kurds, has also suspended flights to the region.

The fallout from the vote has so far been largely political, but Kurdish forces have previously clashed with federal pro-government paramilitaries, and with tensions high, there is a significant risk of violence.