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12-year-old murdered
lack of law enforcement in mosul means more honour crimes

Ahmad al-Sayegh
A lack of real law enforcement in Mosul has seen more locals turning to traditional tribal law. However one troubling aspect of this has been the acceptance of honour killings – where men and women who engage…
12.12.2013  |  Mosul


The incident has been the topic of much speculation. In Mosul and Badoosh, where it apparently happened, locals have been talking about a horrifying incident where two youths were killed by a relative.

A neighbour who didn’t want to give his name said the 12-year-old girl who was killed had told her mother that a relative, a 15 year old boy, had tried to, or had had, sex with her.

“She probably didn’t realize the seriousness of what she was saying,” the neighbour remarked. “It may not actually have been true. Maybe the boy was just flirting with her.”

The mother, afraid of a scandal, told her brother-in-law about what her daughter had said and a family meeting was called. At the meeting the family’s elders insisted that the girl be put to death – the incident required an “honour killing”. Basically traditional tribal law says that a woman should be killed if she has dishonoured her family by being sexually liberal before marriage, or, in cases of adultery, during it.

“If the woman is unmarried and a virgin, then the adulterer should agree to marry her,” one tribal leader from southern Iraq, has noted in the past. “If the adulterer cannot be identified or refuses to marry the woman, then the woman may be killed.”

In this case the young girl’s uncle, who is 35 years old, was given the task of murdering his niece.

Another story doing the rounds about the same incident has the uncle discovering the two youths in flagrante. He locked them in a room and called the father of the boy involved. Less than an hour later, he took both the boy and the girl into the yard and killed them.

Strangely enough there have been no reports of the incident in local media. Locals believe that the police, who would usually be the source for news like this, have avoided putting out a press release so as not to inflame an already tense social situation. The state of Ninawa is considered something of a flashpoint in Iraq because of the different ethnicities and sects living there together; additionally the city of Mosul is known as a base for local Sunni extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

The difficult security situation in the area around Badoosh, near Mosul, means that many now rely on tribal law – that is, judgments passed by tribal leaders which often include such things as financial compensation and forced immigration to solve problems, rather than any jail time. Tribal law has always been important in these areas but as various political forces and their military counterparts grapple with one another for power in this area, it is increasingly the only way to get justice here.

Regardless of which of the above stories about the murder of the two young locals is true, Iraqi army forces apparently came to the yard upon hearing the gunfire. They took the young victims’ bodies to the local hospital after which local police arrested the uncle, the alleged murderer.

The Iraqi law is still notoriously lax when it comes to honour killings and courts have discretionary powers to reduce sentences when the murder was an honour killing, says local lawyer Saad Hamid. Article 409 of Iraq’s penal code reduces a murder sentence to a maximum of three years if a man “surprises his wife or one of his female dependents (who is) in a state of adultery or finds her in bed with a partner and kills her immediately, or kills one of them”.

However Hamid believes that the Mosul court is unlikely to consider this case an honour killing because of the age of the two victims. Additionally forensic examination of the girl’s body showed no traces of semen and he believes the alleged murderer will be given a harsh sentence, as a result.

“Because of their age the two victims cannot be held responsible,” local cleric, Mohammed al-Samma, the imam at the Al Nabi Younis mosque in Mosul, says. “This is a heinous crime and it violates [Islamic] Sharia law. Adults who commit adultery of their free will, or if one party forces another to commit adultery, are punished with 100 lashes. They are not murdered. But even the lashes are undertaken carefully and with strict limitations.”

Meanwhile even as rumours about the murder continue to circulate – about the mother now blaming herself for what happened and the fact that the boy’s father is now demanding restorative justice and compensation for his son’s life – more stories of honour killings continue to emerge.

As the two young people were being prepared for burial another story of an honour killing began to be told. A young woman left her husband and tried to flee into the nearby semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan together, together with another man. Because of strict security on the borders there at the moment due to recent extremist attacks, the pair were unable to get into the other province and were forced to return home.

Upon returning to her family the young woman swore that nothing untoward had happened between her and the other man, who was suspected of being her lover. Nonetheless her family apparently had her killed. True or not, this story is unlikely to be the last one that does the round about honour killings here.