Clarissa's Middle East Diary: Thursday, March 8

Photoessay: Clarissa's Travels

Thursday, March 8, 8:26 a.m.

Today I woke up early to attend a briefing by General Petraeus in the Green Zone. It's not far from where we live, but it takes an inordinate amount of time and coordination to go there anyway, due to the amount of checkpoints and searches one has to go through.

Every time we go out, we have to wear our flak jackets and something on top to cover them, so we don't immediately stand out as Westerners. On top of that, we ladies are advised to wear a hijab, an Islamic head covering, to make us look less conspicuous. It always makes our local staff laugh when they see me in my hijab; “ya hajeeya” they tease me, referring to the respectful way to call a woman who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Iraq was once a country where women could choose, depending on their family, whether or not they wanted to wear a headscarf. On the street, you used to see many women with their hair down and styled, wearing jeans and high heels, as you did women covered from top to toe in the traditional Shiite abbaya.

In the last few years, all that has changed. Most women now feel safer covering their heads when they are on the streets. Our housekeepers spend the day here at the bureau in jeans and t-shirts and it always saddens me when I see them ready to go home, covered by their hijab and loose fitting black clothes. It saddens me because it is not a love of God, a religious conviction, or even an observation of a cultural tradition that makes them wear it. It is fear.

Clarissa Ward is a reporter based out of Beirut, Lebanon. She has reported for the FOX News Channel from Beirut and Baghdad, covering stories such as Saddam's execution and the current unrest in Lebanon.