Rumors of rape fan anti-American flames

Paper's claim against troops widely believed

By Charles A. Radin
Globe Staff / January 4, 2004

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ISTANBUL -- The allegations can be heard almost everywhere in Turkey now, from farmers' wives eating in humble kebab shops, in influential journals, and from erudite political leaders: American troops have raped thousands of Iraqi women and young girls since ousting dictator Saddam Hussein.

Articles in Turkey's Islamist press reporting the allegations have fanned opposition here to the US invasion of Iraq to white-hot anger -- and even, apparently, to murder.

Nurullah Kuncak says his father, Ilyas Kuncak, was boiling about the rumored rapes just before he killed himself delivering the huge car bomb that devasted the Turkish headquarters of HSBC bank last month, killing a dozen people and wounding scores more.

"Didn't you see, the American soldiers raped Iraqi women," Nurullah said in a recent interview. "My father talked to me about it. . . . Thousands of rapes are in the records. Can you imagine how many are still secret?"

Mustafa Ozkafa, mayor of the fervently Muslim city of Konya, also is incensed. While he says he is strictly nonviolent, Ozkafa also said that "women and children are dying every day in Iraq. . . . We are hearing there is rape in Iraq now. To whom will the Islamic world present the bill for this?"

The articles in the Islamist press are based in part on comments allegedly made by a US sex therapist who denies having written or said anything about soldiers raping women. The therapist, in an online column, explicitly and graphically described the US invasion as a rape, but says that this was clearly a metaphor unrelated to the actions of individual US soldiers, and that she has no knowledge of any physical rapes.

The initial reports in the Turkish press were published in Yeni Safak, a leading Islamist journal.

The first, a front-page article on Oct. 22, stated: "In addition to the occupation and despoilation, thousands of Iraqi women are being raped by American soldiers. There are more than 4,000 rape events on the record." The article's primary source was identified as "Dr. Susan Block," who was reported to have said that a wave of rapes began with the occupation and was ongoing.

The second article, published Dec. 3, claimed that the 54 Iraqis killed in the city of Samarra on Nov. 30 did not die when they attacked US convoys and were repulsed, as the US occupation authority reported, but were shot while rioting over the kidnapping and rape of 30 young girls by US soldiers.

The US Embassy in Ankara, the Turkish capital, has strongly denounced the reports, calling them "outrageous allegations . . . based on a US `source' best known for her pornographic websites and erotic television program. We believe it is irresponsible for a serious newspaper to present such false claims from a clearly unreliable source on its front page as if they were fact. We view this article as a deliberate attempt to mislead Turkish readers and to damage the strong ties between the Turkish and American people."

Kursat Bumin, a prominent writer and critic for Yeni Safak, wrote an opinion page article in the newspaper agreeing that the reports were "without any foundation, without any basis," but the publication's executives did not respond either to the official US complaint or to inquiries from the Globe. Foreign editor Ibrahim Karagul said that he and the editor in chief of the publication had decided not to talk about the reports.

Block is a California-based sex therapist who has a doctorate in philosophy. She says Yeni Safak apparently drew erroneously on an article she published on the Internet titled "Rape of Iraq."

"I am a sex therapist and I use sexual terminology for political commentary," Block said. "I did not say American troops are literally raping Iraqi women. . . . I don't know if Americans are raping Iraqi women. I do know they are killing them. I don't know if that's much better." She said it is clear that she was using "rape" as a metaphor for "invasion."

Block's "Rape of Iraq" column asserts that the US and British media and publics are desperately searching for smiling Iraqi faces in the aftermath of what she calls "the Anglo-American rape of Iraq."

"The supreme victory for the rapist is the proof that his victim `enjoyed' it," the column says. "Though he may force his way into her property, demolish her home, murder her loved ones, pillage her belongings, though he may terrify and humiliate her, beat her and batter her, break her bones and tear her flesh, spill her blood, wound her organs and lay waste to her soul, if in the midst of the rape, between tears and shrieks of agony, if his victim should . . . smile . . . the rapist is redeemed; he is even (in his mind) heroic."

Block said she had heard rumors that one of the suicide bombers was motivated at least in part by rage over alleged rapes of Iraqi women by American soldiers, but that she was flabbergasted by how widely the rape story has spread.

"I am appalled to be misquoted and even more appalled that the story inspired someone to such violence," she said. A statement from Block calling the attribution in Yeni Safak "absolutely false" was posted on the website of the US Embassy in Ankara on Dec. 23.

A representative of the embassy, who spoke on condition that his name not be published, said "we believe in the free press, it is a fundamental principle of the United States" but that "especially with the situation now in Iraq and the region, there is the possibility that inflammatory stories can incite people to action based on information that has no relationship to the truth."

One of the most dangerous aspects of these rumors, say Turkish and Western officials, is that people who do not at all fit the stereotypes of suicide bombers -- people like Ilyas Kuncak -- may be motivated to drastic action. The embassy official noted that Kuncak's son and one of his daughters told the Turkish media after their father blew up the HSBC office building in Istanbul's financial district that their father had been upset about the rape reports in the days before he set off the blast.

The suicide bomber's son, Nurullah, interviewed recently in his late father's spice shop in Istanbul's Bagcilar neighborhood, said Ilyas Kuncak's anger was perhaps a key to understanding the otherwise baffling question of why his father did what he did.

"Until now, I agreed with the Western idea that suicide bombers were poor people with nothing to lose," Nurullah Kuncak said. "But look at my father. He had two houses, a good shop, five children, and two grandchildren."

Charles A. Radin can be reached at top stories on Twitter

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