Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have admitted they are powerless to prevent “honor killings” in the city following a 70 percent increase in religious murders during the past year.
There has been no improvement in conviction rates for these killings in the city. So far this year, 81 women in the city have been murdered for allegedly bringing shame on their families. Only five people have been convicted.
Last year the Basra security committee recorded 47 “honor killings” and three convictions.
One lawyer in the city described how police were actively protecting perpetrators and said that a woman in Basra could now be murdered by hired hitmen for as little as US$100.
The figures come despite international outrage that followed coverage of the death of 17-year-old Rand Abdel-Qader, who was murdered by her father last April in an “honor killing” after falling in love with a British soldier in Basra.
Abdel-Qader was killed after her family discovered that she had formed a friendship with a 22-year-old infantryman whom she knew as Paul. She was suffocated by her father and then hacked with a knife. Abdel-Qader Ali was subsequently arrested and released without charge.
Rand’s mother, Leila Hussein, who divorced her husband after the killing, went into hiding but was tracked down weeks later and assassinated by an unknown gunman. Her husband had said that police congratulated him for killing his daughter.
Seven months after the murders, the problem of these killings in Basra has become worse, lawyers said.
Ali Azize Raja’a, an Iraqi prosecutor who has represented the victims of 32 “honor killings” since 2004, said that, despite accumulating sufficient evidence to prove who was responsible in each murder, he had won only one case.
He said that the greatest issue was the decision by police to release suspects. Seven in 10 of those thought to be responsible for such a killing had left the city, with little attempt made to track them down, he said.
The father of Rand is also understood to have left Basra. He was held by police in connection with his daughter’s murder for only two hours. A local businessman who described the actions of Rand’s father as “courageous” is believed to have given a considerable sum of money to him and his two sons, who disowned their mother after she objected to Rand’s killing. Raja’a said that when he was approached by Leila over Rand’s case, his family was threatened by relatives.
Another Iraqi lawyer, who requested anonymity, said that some fathers had started to hire professional hitmen to carry out “honor killings,” which were then covered as “sectarian murders.”
“The life of these women isn’t higher than US$100. You can find a killer standing in any coffee shop of Basra, discussing prices of a life as if he was buying a piece of meat,” he said.
Mariam Ayub Sattar, an activist in Basra, said that any woman caught speaking to a man in public who was not her husband or a relative was considered a prostitute and punished.
Two weeks ago three women were burned with acid while walking through a market in Basra after stopping to speak to a male student they were friends with, Sattar said.