Baghdad, 8 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Twenty-four-year-old Hajear and her sister Sarah, 26, are police officers in Iraq. They say they want to serve as role models for other Iraqi women who are used to working modestly in the home.
Hajear and Sarah arrived at the Al-Khadra police station in northern Baghdad just five days ago, after finishing a two-month training course. They wear blue Iraqi police uniforms and carry guns. Their faces are not covered, but they do wear Muslim head scarves. The sisters constantly smile and laugh. They are two of some 300 women serving on the Baghdad police force.
Hajear says her family was always liberal, opposed Saddam Hussein's regime, and encouraged her and Sarah to pursue their dreams of becoming police officers. Now, however, when danger seems to lurk around every corner, the family is afraid for the sisters' lives.
"My family encouraged me to be a police officer and to be an example of an Iraqi woman as a policewoman,” Hajear says. “They are afraid when I leave home and come back, but I was trained how to protect myself. I am not afraid."
Sarah also says she is not afraid of being killed in the line of duty. She says everyone has his or her own destiny and should meet it without fear. She says she does not plan to die but is ready to fight and continue with her career. One day, she says, she hopes to become a police chief.
"With God's help, we are police officers. Maybe in the future, I will be president." -- Sarah, 26 years old
"I would like to be a director of a police station or something higher in the police force,” Sarah says. “I love this field of activity. I like this kind of danger. I love to be a responsible person and fight crime."
Sarah says she is ready to challenge a society run by men, to prove that women are equals.
"Women had pressure on them, and [men] would never let [a woman] serve in the police. Now, we have [female government] ministers. With God's help, we are police officers. Maybe in the future, I will be president," Sarah says.
Women are almost invisible on the streets of the capital Baghdad. The men say this is because of security concerns, that they are trying to protect them. Many women dispute this, however, saying men in Iraq have always been inclined to keep their wives and sisters locked up at home.
All shopkeepers in Baghdad are men or boys. Men sell newspapers. Men sell tea. Men drive cars. Men argue about politics in the cafes. Men preach the sermons in the mosques. Men fight and kill. Men are kidnappers and men are being kidnapped.
Hajear says Iraq needs "female brains to make the country really different." She says the Americans in Iraq pushed the idea that women should be allowed to serve as police officers.
"They trained us, they provided with psychological support," Hajear says. "So here we are, to break the old customs of our society and old beliefs that women are not good enough for public jobs.”
"We want to break this rule,” Hajear says. “We want to prove to them that we are like men, that women are the same as men. Before [the war], women were ignored, but maybe now the time has come when we can break this rule and prove the opposite."
Hajear says she hopes the next generation of Iraqis will be different.
"We know that in the U.S. Army, women can become generals. We would also like to be as they are," she says. "Now, we live without freedom, but we hope we will have it."
Senior Lieutenant Farid Khalil of the Al-Khadra police station says the concept of female police officers represents a big challenge to Iraqi society. He says the sisters are "damned brave to join the police in a society where people throw black paint at advertisements picturing females."
He says the majority of Iraqis are conservative and think police work is not for women because it contradicts old perceptions of feminine modesty.
"The society doesn't accept [women] because our people are backward and our people do not move together with time,” Khalil says. “Our people think it is shameful for women to be soldiers or police officers."
Many policemen say they have never seen female officers, though, and that they will "observe this experiment with interest."
An officer named Muhammad says the sisters are newcomers and are learning how to do police paperwork. "Maybe later, we will use them as agents or traps to lure male criminals," he says.
Another policeman, Muthana, says the two sisters have already learned a lot. They know how to use rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs, and they know how to fire their pistols and handcuff criminal suspects.
Asked if they are riding on patrols, Muthana says the women are not being assigned such duties quite yet.
"It is completely beyond the wildest imagination to have a female driving a patrol car," Muthana says. "Our society will not accept it."