Analysis

Sunday 13 July 2014

In the name of religion: Iraq's female genocide

Terri Judd in Basra, Iraq

Published 28/04/2008|00:00

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'It is difficult to describe how terrible it is - how badly we have been pushed back to the middle ages. Women are being denied their most basic rights'

At first glance Shawbo Ali Rauf appears to be slumbering on the grass, her pale brown curls framing her face, her summer skirt spread about her. But the awkward position of her limbs and the splattered blood reveal the true horror of the scene.

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The 19-year-old Iraqi was murdered by her own in-laws who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone.

Her "honour killing" is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where campaigners speak of a "genocide" against women in the name of religion.

In the latest such case, last month, a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq.

In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure.

Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase.

Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old from Nineveh, was executed by stoning in front of a mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a boy outside her Yazidi tribe. Mobile-phone images of her broken body transmitted on the internet led to sectarian violence, international outrage and calls for reform. Her father, Khalil Aswad, speaking one year after her death in April last year, has revealed that none of those responsible had been prosecuted and his family remained "outcasts" in their own tribe.

"My daughter did nothing wrong," he said. "She fell in love with a Muslim and there is nothing wrong with that. I couldn't protect her because I got threats from my brother, the whole tribe. They insisted they were going to kill us all, not only Du'a, if she was not killed. She was mutilated, her body dumped like rubbish."

Despite the outrage, recent calls by the Kurdish MP Narmin Osman to outlaw honour killings have been blocked by fundamentalists. "Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government," said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of Sharia law in Kurdistan.

"In the past five years it is has got [much] worse. It is difficult to describe how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self-immolation is rising; women are left with no choice.

"There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights."

In August last year, the body of 11-year-old Sara Jaffar Nimat was found in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, after she had been stoned and burnt to death. Earlier this month, two brothers and a sister were kidnapped from their home near Kirkuk by gunmen in police uniforms. The brothers were beaten to death and the woman left in a critical condition after being informed that she must obey the rules of an "Islamic state".

Only days ago, a journalist, Begard Huseein, was murdered in her home in Erbil, northern Iraq. Her husband, Mohammed Mustafa, stabbed her because she was in love with another man, according to local reports.

The stoning death of Ms Aswad led to the establishment of an internal ministry unit in Kurdistan to combat violence against women. It reported that last year in Sulaimaniya, a city of a million people, there were 407 reported offences, beheadings, beatings, deaths through "family problems", and threats of honour killings.

Rape is not included as most women are too fearful to report it for fear of retribution. Nevertheless, police in Karbala recently revealed 25 reports of rape.

The new Iraqi constitution, according to Mrs Mahmoud, is a mass of confusing contradictions. While it states that men and women are equal under law it also decrees that Sharia law -- which considers one male witness worth two females -- must be observed. The days when women could hold down key jobs or enjoy any freedom of movement are long gone. The fundamentalists have sent out too many chilling messages.

"Honour killings and murder are widespread," said Mrs Mahmoud.

"Thousands [of people]... have become victims of murder, violence and rape -- all backed by laws, tribal customs and religious rules. We urge the international community, the government, to condemn this barbaric practice, and help the women of Iraq." (© Independent News Service)

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