We have to pass several checkpoints as our car, driven by ‘Ammu Abu Manal, leaves al-Kazimiyyah on our way to central Baghdad. Such checkpoints are situated between the different areas of the capital we are crossing, and some are more imposing than others. Framed by concrete walls and T-walls, a checkpoint can consist of pulling into a hall with a metal roof where the car is parked and the motor turned off; a soldier then passes a mirror under the car’s wheels and another walks with an explosive detector around the car. Sometimes, we would have to get out of the car and its trunk would be searched. In such cases, ‘Ammu Abu Manal would be searched from head to toe by soldiers while standing in front of the car, and I would be taken behind black curtains in a prefabricated small square room where my handbag would be searched and my body patted down by women working as security guards. Such checkpoints are rare and mostly found in areas like al-Kazimiyyah, which is often visited for the al-Kazimain shrines, or at the entrance of the Green Zone -where some of the country’s most important institutions such as the Parliament and Council of Ministries, the US embassy, the UN and international agencies are situated, and surrounding governmental institutions. For most other checkpoints, ‘Ammu Abu Manal would not have to turn off the motor or park the car; he would simply lower his window and salute the soldiers, who would always politely salute back, while a soldier runs an explosive detector alongside the car as it passes the concrete walls. Passing checkpoints is more or less difficult and time consuming depending on the security climate in the country. If there is a car bomb, an assassination of political leaders, or any kind of security related events during the day, the circulation in Baghdad is slowed down due to increased checkpoint inspections.
Central Baghdad (May 2012)
Since 2003, Baghdad has become a city fragmented by checkpoints guarded by armed young male soldiers and concrete T-walls that divides areas and neighborhoods. The primary fragmentation of Baghdad is based on sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shi’as especially since the violence of 2006-2007 reshaped the whole capital leaving very limited communal -ethnic, religious and sectarian- heterogeneous spaces. However, social, political and economic dimensions are often neglected in the look at what divides and unites in post-invasion Iraq. I want to reflect on these dimensions relying on my everyday observation and experience of the capital’s public and outdoor spaces as a young woman conducting fieldwork research in Iraq since 2010. First, I want to reflect on the female figure that dominates Iraqi public spaces: the poor woman beggar in her black ‘abayah often surrounded by children selling bottles of water, tissues or biscuits. Her presence in the streets of Baghdad reveals the development and overlap of social, political and economic realities that were exacerbated in 2003 but started since at least the 1980s. Then, I want to explore some aspects of the gender division of public and outdoor spaces of the capital, first by analyzing some features of what has shaped gender norms in the past decades and secondly by shedding light on the class dimensions of both gender and sectarian divisions.
A Country of Widows
On our way to central Baghdad, between buildings marked by bullets or explosions, hanging electricity wires and dirt, I witness heart wrenching scenes of women beggars. Often holding a swaddled baby in their arms, they would sit in the dust wearing a ripped, black ‘abayah or stand selling small packets of tissues to car drivers. Next to them, children whose faces have been burnt by the sun sell all kinds of biscuits, sweets and small bottles of water. In the evenings, the women beggars would approach families sitting on restaurant terraces, at ice cream parlors or in cocktail shops to sell small packets of chewing gum. Always presenting themselves as widows, these women would ask for help to feed their children. Poor widows begging in tattered black ‘abayah are the primary female figures in the streets, they are the only women hanging around the streets, as most women are merely passing by, driving, entering or leaving a shop, shopping at markets or siting in family dedicated spaces of restaurants, coffee or ice-cream shops. The rest of the capital’s public outdoor spaces are occupied by men, and armed male soldiers and police officers stand at every intersection.
Al-Shuhada’ Bridge, central Baghdad (May 2017)
It is commonly known that women and children beggars are not all from Baghdad, but many have left Southern provinces with their families where unemployment, generalized poverty and scarcity of basic services such as access to running water and electricity are even stronger than Baghdad. They are often identified as sharagwah, originally a word designating population from southern provinces who emigrated in the urban outskirts of the capital and commonly used as a pejorative word revealing a form of regional and social racism. A Southern city such as Nasriyah is known to be the city of martyrs since the 1990s as young men have been victims of the successive armed conflicts, from the Ba’th regime’s harsh repression of the 1991 uprisings, to the “war against IS” since many young unemployed men joined the army or the military gathering of volunteer civilians called al-Hashd al-Sha’bi (Popular Mobilization Units) since 2014. More generally, Iraq is known as the country of widows estimated to have reached 1,5 million  as a result of the decades war and military conflicts beginning in the 1980s with the war with Iran that lasted almost a decade, followed by the Gulf war and the regime’s deadly repression of the Northern and Southern popular uprisings. The sanctions, rightly named “invisible war” by Joy Gordon can be added to this morbid list as it plunged the majority of the population into poverty, destroyed the middle-class, and deprived the state of its primary source of income, oil revenues. Sanctions destroyed the sectors on which women mainly relied: public infrastructures and services, social, education and health systems. After being until the 1980s the country with the most advanced education and health system and with the highest female literacy and level of education in the region, Iraq after the sanctions joined the list of the countries with the highest rate of child mortality and female illiteracy. It was estimated that between 500,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqis – primarily children – were direct victims of the sanctions that caused a devastating humanitarian crisis that deeply altered the social and cultural fabric of Iraqi society. The sanctions also deprived the country of the equipment required to repair the damaged infrastructures essential to the survival of civilians such as water and power plants that were destroyed by the 1991 devastating US-led bombing.
The Iraqi society already brutalized by decades of war and sanctions faced an explosion of violence as a direct consequence of the US-led invasion and occupation of 2003 that exacerbates its economic, social and political atomization. Armed violence reached its peak in 2006-2007 and since then armed clashes between armed groups are not only characterized by sectarian conflicts opposing Sunni and Shi’a groups, but exist in between their different armed groups in their race for power over the control of provinces and neighborhoods. Since 2014, the war against IS is causing again the death of young male soldiers alongside civilian casualties and the very destruction of the city of Mosul and its surroundings. Iraqi state budget is again, as it was under the previous regime since the 1980s oriented towards war spending and no major politics or campaigns have been undertaken by the new regime since 2003 to deal with the humanitarian and social crisis caused by these armed conflicts.
The poor widow begging in the street of the capital dressed in her black ‘abayah is sometimes an old lady whose husband fought and died in the war-front and who lost any kind of family support since the sanctions, often a middle aged or young woman who lost a husband in a sectarian attack or whose son is currently fighting in Mosul hoping to serve his country and get out of his miserable economic condition. Baghdad is full of these women covered in dust and black, tolerated by the armed soldiers present at every intersection, and often looked at with pain by passersby handing them blue notes of 500 dinars. Her presence reveals how much war and poverty are gendered in a militarized city in constant struggle for stability.
While we approach central Baghdad, ‘Ammu Abu Manal said to me: “‘Ammu Zahra, al-Rashid is not a good place to walk around, especially for a young woman like you. It is full of mhashashin [junkies] and loose men.” I replied: “I would like to walk around there, in Bab al-Mu’azam, al-Midan, the ‘old Baghdad’ and also al-Rashid and al-Nahar Street before heading to al-Mutanabbi.” ‘Ammu is right, it is not pleasant to walk around this area nowadays as these streets have been converted into depositories and wholesale shops for all kinds of products. This area of Baghdad used to be the cultural and social heart of the city; when my parents first met in their mid-twenties, this area was full of theaters, cinemas, shops, cafes, restaurants, and places for young Baghdadis to relax, socialize and walk around. Now, the beautifully white and flowery balconies and colonnades are covered in dirt, and the theaters, cinemas, and cafes have disappeared. The area has become a stomping ground for poor lurking men, and has the reputation for hosting all kinds of underground business.
Al-Rashid street, central Baghdad (November 2011)
I was often the only woman walking around alone in these areas; several times being harassed by soldiers at checkpoints or lurking men. Militarization pushed by the state since the 1980s impacted on representations around femininity and masculinity that celebrated the figure of the male soldier in charge of protecting “women and children”. Women were associated to vulnerability and passivity as they were presented as the symbol of the nation being protected and manhood became associated with the active use of violence. The events of the 1990s marked the very normalization of military and political violence, the dreadful authoritarian repression and devastating US-led bombing exacerbated these gender representations. In the context of the sanctions new forms of patriarchy emerged as extreme poverty pushed families and individuals to survival strategies. Not only that women were considered as in need of male’s protection, but essential social and cultural values eroded with the spread of corruption, individual relations based on economic interest, and the fragmentation of family solidarity in a context where individuals struggled for survival. In this context prostitution, pornography, the kidnapping of girls, young women marrying – or forced to marry – old wealthy men, a general decrease in marriage due to poverty, and the rise of informal marriages emerged. The Faith Campaign undertaken by the Ba’th regime turning to a conservative religious and tribal ideology also altered women’s dress code and presence in public spaces as normative gender representations promoting women’s domestic roles were consolidated during this period. Since 2003, the generalized presence of armed men at every corner of the capital, as well as the rise of conservative social and religious powers in a context of generalized violence carried on this process of production of normative gender representations and practices.
However, gender norms also carry unexpected consequences. Throughout my fieldwork it has been a real challenge to photograph the streets of Baghdad because of security climate, I received many warnings from soldiers when attempting to do so. I am told that taking photographs is forbidden, especially in areas related to the Green Zone, official buildings, political party offices, and checkpoints. In order to evade such warnings, I bought a little pink camera that looked like a girlish telephone in the hopes that it would confuse the army soldiers and police officers standing at every corner. I initially thought the soldiers would not forbid a young woman to take random pictures in the streets; and most of the time, my performance of innocence and naiveté convinced them that I was taking pictures without intention or agenda. Being a young woman dressed as a middle class Iraqi really helped me to access many places without being systematically stopped and searched. A man standing, observing or taking pictures alone in the city would be regarded with suspicion, as most of the kidnappings, assassinations and explosions are perpetrated by males. Dressed casually, I was perceived as harmless while observing and taking pictures, eliciting smiles from male officers rather than suspicion.
Gender and Sectarian Fragmentations Structured by Class Belongings
Outdoor places where women can spend some spare time and walk around are places of consumption such as markets, restaurants, coffees, ice cream shops, malls and some of Baghdad’s middle and upper-class clubs. Female-friendly coffees or restaurants are ‘awa’il -family- spaces. When I go out with relatives for a drink, we would be invited to sit in a ‘awa’il -family- space and only my male relatives would carry on their evening in a coffee or shisha place as they are dedicated to shabab -young males- after seven pm. A part from a few exceptions especially in al-Karrada, there are very few places for women to peacefully sit and stay alone in Baghdad, even a group of women would be invited to sit in a “family space”. This division illustrates the gender norms associated to public space: men walk and hang around, their bodies literally occupy public spaces while women pass by and if they stay they are accompanied by their family.
Most well-known outdoor places where women can stay at ease necessitates a certain social status and economic capital. Clubs such as Nadi al-Sayd in al Mansour or Nadi al-‘Alwiyyah in central Baghdad where the gender division is less important and where women and men can find restaurants, coffees, shisha as well as activities to chill and relax, watch a movie or go to the swimming pool are open to their members only and their membership is highly expensive. Clearly these private clubs are open to upper class Iraqis and seek to preserve this class hierarchy through their membership and consumption prices. Shopping malls are not as hierarchical as they are in principle open to all, but Baghdadis do dress up to go to Mall al-Mansour for example, and having a tea or coffee there is at least three times more expensive than outside the mall. Gender division of space is less visible in these middle-class consumption centers, men and women occupy the space more freely and apart from the stop and search point at the entrance of the mall, inside there are no signs of war and sectarian conflict, no soldiers or police officers. The nature of the dress code in these places are also very revealing as people are dressed elegantly and middle and upper class clothing are predominant. However, the diversity of women’s clothing, from very covered to less covered is also a striking feature. There, more than in any other outdoor spaces in the capital men and women mix and circulate, the gender tensions associated to female’s presence, circulation and clothing is not as strong as it is in the streets where male’s presence is dominant.
Mall al Mansour (May, 2017)
Thus, outdoor spaces where women can feel away from sectarian conflicts, armed male’s gaze , circulate, sit down and occupy the space are the very places that represent class hierarchy, neoliberalism and privatization in post-invasion Iraq. The possibility of access to these spaces are related to belonging to the middle or upper class and making visible this affiliation through appropriate dress code and the ability to buy and consume.
More importantly class fragmentation crosses the sectarian divide. People from al-Kazimiyyah -a middle and upper middle class Shi’a area- would avoid going to Madinat Al-Sadr -a popular Shi’a area- perceived by them as a “bad” neighbourhood. Madinat al-Sadr is one of the more populous Shi’a neighborhoods of Baghdad. Built in the 1960s by Abdel Kareem Qasim’s revolutionary regime to house the population recently settled in the slums of the city designated as sharagwah, a population that had come from the southern region, and was originally rural, Shi’a and tribal. Since 2003, Madinat al-Sadr has been the rear base of the Mahdi Army and is one of the most targeted by explosions and all kinds of armed violence. It is also a very socially and religiously conservative where signs of Shi’a religiosity are visible everywhere, and where the conformity to normative men and women’s dress code is subject to the scrutiny of the security offices at the entry checkpoint. Madinat al-Sadr reveals the imbrication of gender, class and sectarian fragmentation in the capital.
Finally, class fragmentation is highly related to the political elite in post-invasion Iraq, as the concentration of wealth and power is situated in the very highly securitized Green zone where the new political elite that came to power through the US-led invasion and occupation live and where governmental institutions -Parliament, Ministries etc.- the US embassy and other foreign embassies and agencies are situated. The Green-zone is the only area where electricity works 24h in comparison to the rest of the capital where only a maximum of 7 hours of electricity is provided by the state, fancy hotels and malls are all concentrated there, and its access is reserved to political leaders, wealthy individuals who are the main Green-zone pass holders as well as its local administrators and workers.
Conclusion: Safe Spaces In-Between a City of Men
Arriving in al-Mutanabbi area, a sense of comfort and ease flows. Friday is the day this street, which is dedicated to books and stationary, unveils its treasures and wonders: booksellers display their books along the street as scholars and students of all fields, poets, musicians, writers, painters, political activists and idealists of all ages walk along. Usually, a cultural event is organized in Dar-al Mada bookshop at the end of the street, after which people sit at the al-Shahbandar Teahouse and discuss over black or lemon tea. Al-Mutanabbi is the only street in central Baghdad that has been refurbished; it was nearly destroyed in 2007 after a dramatic car bomb, for which no group claimed responsibility, killed thirty people and wounded one hundred. Every Friday, I feel that I am on an island far away from the realities of war and destruction in Baghdad. In the little garden at the end of the street, around the recently restored al-Qishla clock tower on the edge of the Tigris River, a group of young musicians often sit at a wooden kiosk, sing old Iraqi songs and play Maqam with their ouds while others improvise verses of poetry. There, one can see famous Iraqi scholars and artists, as well as meet with activists, liberal and leftist politicians. Women, young or old, are less numerous than men walking around in this area. However, in comparison to the rest of the capital the average number of women and the diversity of dress code is the highest. Most of the women circulating there are students, activists, scholars of all ages as well as mothers who come to buy schoolbooks for their children.
Al-Mutanabbi street (May 2017)
Al-Mutanabbi stands as an island of cultural richness and diversity in the middle of a militarized city in which disrepair and lack of public services can be found everywhere. It is one of the only non-privatized outdoor space where gender, sectarian and class norms are less significant. It represents a sort of “safe space” although extremely precarious and not easy to reach for Baghdadis living in areas away from the old city center.
In the rest of the capital, the covering of the concrete Twalls in paintings of the Iraqi flag, scenes highlighting national unity and various symbols of ancient and modern Iraq hardly affects its atmosphere of conflict. As outdoor privatized middle and upper-class places of consumption and leisure are developing, the condition of public spaces reveals the very weakness of the Iraqi regime incapable of providing a sense of equal citizenship and the absence of functioning public services shed light on a dysfunctional state. Al-Mutanabbi stands as “an island in between” in a city characterized by gender, class and sectarian fragmentations. Sadly, Baghdad known as Madinat al-Salam -The City of Peace- could rightly be named since 2003 Madinat al-Rijal -The City of Men-.
 Abu Manal means literally the “father of Manal”. In Iraq, most adults are commonly addressed as “father of” or “mother of” their eldest son, and less frequently eldest daughter, like in the case of Abu Manal who has three daughters and whose eldest is named Manal.
 In 2010, I decided to settle in Baghdad in order to conduct fieldwork within Iraqi women’s political and civil society groups for my doctoral research. Between October 2010 and June 2012, I stayed mainly in Baghdad, in my grandmother’s house in al-Kazimiyyah, studying the women’s movement and experiencing the everyday life of Baghdadis. During this period, I have also conducted three months of fieldwork within Kurdish women’s groups and networks in Erbil and Sulaymaniyyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. I have conducted more than 80 semi-structured interviews with Iraqi women political activists involved in groups working on women and gender issues formed or reformed after the fall of Saddam’s dictatorship in 2003 and I have been a participant observer of the activities, initiatives and mobilizations organized by local women’s groups. Since 2013, I have conducted research on civil society and youth activisms and extended my fieldwork research to Najaf-Kufa, Karbala and Nasiriyyah.
 Although there is no precise data due to a lack of statistic research on the Iraqi population, this was an estimation given to me in May 2012 by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Committee for Women, Children and Family, and the Ministry of Planning.
 The number of the victims of the US-led coalition bombings in 1991 were estimated to have reached 100,000. See Khoury Rizk, Dina. 2013. Iraq in Wartime. Soldiering, Martyrdom, and Remembrance. Cambridge University Press; Sassoon, Joseph. 2012. Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party. Inside an Authoritarian Regime. Cambridge University Press; Tripp, Charles. 2000. A History of Iraq. Cambridge University Press.
 An estimate of 300,000 Iraqis, mostly male were victims of the Ba’th repression of the northern and southern uprisings. The nearly 2,000,000 refugees in neighboring countries can be added to this terrible number of victims. See Kutschera, Chris. 2005. Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein. Oh editions.
 See Harling, Peter. Harling, Peter. 2012. Beyond Political Ruptures: Towards a Historiography of Social Continuity in Iraq In, Tejtel, Jordi; Sluglett Peter; Bocco, Riccardo; Bozarslan, Hamit (eds.) Writing the Modern History of Iraq. Historiographical and Political Challenges. Hackensack, London: World Scientific Publishing : 61-86.
 See Rohde, Achim. 2010. Gender Policies in Ba’athist Iraq, in State-Society Relations in Ba’thist Iraq, Routledge Studies on the Middle East: 75-118; 2006; Opportunities for Masculinity and Love: cultural Production in Ba’thist Iraq during the 1980s, In Ouzgane Lahoucine eds. Islamic Masculinities, Zed Books; Al-Jawahiri H. Yasmine, 2008. Women in Iraq. The Gender Impact of International Sanctions. I.B. Tauris.
 See Al-Jawahiri H. Yasmine, 2008. Women in Iraq. The Gender Impact of International Sanctions. I.B. Tauris ; Al-Ali, Nadje. 2007. Iraqi Women. Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present. Zed Books; Ismael S. Jacqueline & Ismael T. Shereen. 2008. Living through war, sanctions and occupation: the voices of Iraqi women,International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies Volume 2 Number 3: 409-424; Ali, Zahra. Forthc. Women and Gender in Iraq: Between Nation-Building and Fragmentation. Cambridge University Press.
 See Rohde, Achim. 2010. Gender Policies in Ba’athist Iraq, in State-Society Relations in Ba’thist Iraq, Routledge Studies on the Middle East: 75-118; See Al-Jawahiri H. Yasmine, 2008. Women in Iraq. The Gender Impact of International Sanctions. I.B. Tauris ; Al-Ali, Nadje. 2007. Iraqi Women. Untold Stories from 1948 to thePresent. Zed Books; Ismael S. Jacqueline & Ismael T. Shereen. 2008. Living through war, sanctions and occupation: the voices of Iraqi women, International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies Volume 2 Number 3: 409-424; Ali, Zahra. Forthc. Women and Gender in Iraq: Between Nation-Building and Fragmentation. Cambridge University Press.
 In 2008, the occupying Multi-National Forces (MNF) decided to erect checkpoints and mural divisions in the form of the T-Walls all over the capital in their attempt to “secure” the different areas of Baghdad, which were divided according to sectarian belonging after the 2006-2007 explosion of violence. In 2008, the US army, the Iraqi government, and several foreign associations commissioned a 100,000 dollar budget for what was called a “beautification campaign” for the T-Walls, which was led by local municipalities. This resulted in the creation of a series of paintings, mostly inspired by ancient Mesopotamia symbolism, all over Baghdad. See Damaluji, Mona. 2010. Securing democracy in Iraq: Sectarian politics and segregation in Baghdad, 2003-2007. T D S R. Vol. 21 (2): 71-87; Pieri, Caecilia. 2014. Can T-Wall Murals Really Beautify the Fragmented Baghdad, Jadaliyya, 18 mai 2014, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/17704/can-t-wall-murals-really-beautify-the-fragmented-b.