Fear Campaigns Force Iraqi Christian Women to Wear Islamic Headscarves

Christian women in Iraq's second largest city are being threatened and intimidated into wearing the traditional Muslim headscarves, according to reports.

Zeena, 21, on her first day at the University of Basrah, was reportedly met by a man who told her, along with three other young Christian women, to cover their heads with the hijab.

She told U.K.-based newspaper The Times: "We didn't listen to him, and thought he might just be some extremist student representing only himself."

The following day, they returned to the university as before, without their headscarves, and were stopped by a man wearing the black clothes worn by the Shia militia.

"He said, 'We asked you yesterday to wear a hijab, so why are you and your friends not covering your hair?'" Zeena reported. "He was talking very aggressively and I was scared."

When the women responded by saying as Christians they were not required by their faith to wear headscarves, the man said, "Outside this university you are Christian and can do what you want; inside you are not. Next time I want to see you wearing a hijab or I swear to God the three of you will be killed immediately," according to Zeena's account. Now all the girls wear headscarves at all times.

According to the Basra police chief, Major General Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, 40 women have been killed by the militias in the last five months. Some of them have been killed together with their children. One woman without a veil was killed along with her 6 and 11-year-old children.

Militants have reportedly become increasingly powerful since Britain's handover of Basra to Iraqi security forces.

Graffiti adorns the city warning women not to go outside without following Islamic dress codes. According to The Times, one such message stated, "Whoever disobeys will be punished. God is our witness that we have conveyed this message."

In another example, an advertisement for a mobile phone had a woman's unveiled head blotted out and had the words "No, no, to unveiled women" vandalized below.

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