Recently, a mob of frenzied men beat and stoned to death a 17-year-old girl, Du’a Khalil Aswad, in northern Iraq. She was murdered by relatives and neighbors for falling in love with someone that her community did not approve of, in what’s typically called an “honor killing.” Her murder has received a fair amount of media coverage, not because “honor killings” are an anomaly in today’s Iraq, but because this particular attack was videotaped and released on the Internet.
Throughout Iraq, and elsewhere, attacks like Du’a’s brutal murder are used to punish women who make autonomous decisions about issues such as marriage, divorce, and whether and with whom to have sex. In the US, most people think that this brutality is exactly the kind of thing that the US “democratization” of Iraq was meant to stop. In fact, the opposite is true. Since the US invasion, “honor killings” have been on the rise across Iraq, due in large part to measures enacted by the US.
The US has empowered Islamist political parties whose clerics promote “honor killing” as a religious duty.[i] As Iraqi women’s rights advocate Yanar Mohammed explained, “Once the religious parties came to power, Iraqi men began hearing in the mosques that it was their duty to protect the honor of their families by any means. It is understood that this entails killing women who break the rules.”[ii] Women who are raped by men outside of their family are considered to have shamed their families. Consequently, the overall rise in rape and kidnapping under US occupation has elicited a rash of “honor killings.” In October 2004, Iraq’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs revealed that more than half of the 400 rapes reported since the US invasion resulted in the murder of rape survivors by their families. (full text, May 18, 2007).