Trapped by Violence – Women in Iraq

17-year-old Rand ‘Abd al-Qader was killed in the city of Basra on 16 March 2008. She was murdered by her father, apparently assisted by two of her brothers, because she had developed a friendship with a British soldier based in the city.

‘Abdel Qader ‘Ali, who admits killing his daughter, was questioned at a local police station. He told a British newspaper that police officers sympathized with his motive and released him after two hours of questioning. He has still not been charged or tried.

Leila Hussein, Rand ‘Abd al-Qader’s mother, denounced her husband’s crime and left him, even though this meant she had to go into hiding. She did so with the support of a local women’s organization.

She too was killed on 17 May 2008, shot dead in the street in Basra. Two women accompanying her were shot and wounded. The authorities have failed to identify the perpetrators.

These two cases are illustrative of the situation of women in Iraq, including in the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. Women are faced with systematic discrimination and violence and are targeted specifically because of their gender.

They are being attacked in the street by men with different political agendas, but who all want to impose veiling, gender segregation and discrimination. Islamist armed groups have said they were responsible for carrying out violent attacks on women, and have sought to justify them, for failing to abide by their interpretation of how women should behave.

In addition, as in many other countries, women also suffer violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives, particularly if they try to choose how to lead their lives.

Licensed to Kill
‘Abdel Qader ‘Ali is one of many men who commit violent crimes against women in Iraq but who are never brought to justice because the authorities are unwilling to carry out proper investigations and punish the perpetrators.

Six years after the overthrow of former President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi legislators have yet to amend legislation that effectively condones, even facilitates, violence against women and girls. The Penal Code, for example, provides that a convicted murderer who pleads in mitigation that he killed with “honourable motives” may face just six months in prison.

It also effectively allows husbands to use violence against their wives. The “exercise of a legal right” to exemption from criminal liability is permitted for: “Disciplining a wife by her husband, the disciplining by parents and teachers of children under their authority within certain limits prescribed by Islamic law (Shari’a), by law or by custom.”

As a result, police frequently fail to arrest men accused of violence against their female relatives and, in the rare occasions when they do and such men are prosecuted before the courts, judges may hand down lenient sentences, even when a woman has been murdered. This sends out a terrifying message to all women in Iraq – that they may be killed and beaten with impunity.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, however, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken some positive steps in recent years. Law 14 of 2002 amended the Iraqi Penal Code to remove the “honourable motives” clause in cases involving crimes against women within the jurisdiction of the KRG and special units have been established within the police to address violence against women.

Concrete steps that need to be taken
Amnesty International has said that the Iraqi authorities must amend all legislation that discriminates against women and, in the case of the Iraqi government, allows mitigation on grounds of “honour” for violent crimes against women; establish effective accountability mechanisms to ensure prompt and thorough investigations of crimes of violence against women, and bring those found responsible to justice.