An "honor killing" in Iraq, captured by cellphone

Perhaps videos of the murder of Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old girl who was stoned to death in Iraq, can help put an end to this barbaric custom.

Published May 8, 2007 5:31PM (EDT)

Several readers have brought to our attention a truly horrible story: Last month, Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old Kurdish girl in Iraq, was stoned to death in an "honor killing" for presumably having a relationship with a Sunni Muslim boy. (She was a member of a minority Kurdish religious group called Yezidi.) Unfortunately, the fact that a girl was murdered for "honor" isn't the news here. The story has recently garnered attention because cellphone videos of the killing have surfaced.

Many of the stories about these videos are accompanied by still shots captured from the videos: a longhaired girl sprawled on the ground, naked from the waist down (she was presumably stripped by her assailants), wearing a red track suit top. For anyone, like me, who doesn't want to watch the videos themselves, here is a description from the Assyrian National News Agency:

"In a short mobile video clip which appears to have been taken by locals at [the scene] of the murder, the girl is seen being ambushed on her way home by a group of up to 1000 men who were waiting for her to return; the men killed her in the most brutal way possible, by throwing large stones on her head. The following clips show that while she is alive and crying for help she is taunted and kicked in her stomach until someone finishes her off by throwing a large stone on her face. From the clips it appears that the girl was first stripped naked to symbolize that she had dishonored her family and her Yezidi religion. She is lying on the road naked while her smashed face is covered with blood and still breathing."

There are so many horrible aspects of the story to comment on: that, in 2007, such stupid brutality still exists; that no one, including police, stepped in to help the girl; that religious differences can lead to such violence; that according to a different news report, men can be heard laughing in the background. But the important thing to remember is that this is not an isolated incident. The video provides particularly gruesome evidence of a practice that is more widespread than any of us would like to even think about.

What's more, this particular killing may have resulted in the deaths of more people than just Aswad. According to the Daily Mail, last week "23 Yezidi workmen were forced off a bus traveling from Mosulto Bashika by a group of Sunni gunmen and summarily shot dead" -- an event that several news sources hypothesize may have been inspired by this "honor killing."

I think one of the most frustrating parts of reading news accounts like this is that they get you upset and leave you wishing that there were actually something you could do, so I've tried to find a few organizations that are working to stop this sort of violence against women. Feel free to mention more in the comments section -- perhaps that way, these horrible videos can at least do something good by inspiring people to take action against this barbaric custom.

Together with the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Madre runs a program called the Underground Railroad for Iraqi Women, modeled after the underground railroad in the United States that helped slaves escape to freedom. It's specifically devoted to helping prevent "honor killings."

Amnesty International runs a "Stop Violence Against Women" campaign.

While not specifically focused on honor killings, Women for Women has a branch specifically devoted to helping women in Iraq.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women runs a branch that aims to stop violence against women.

Also check out Human Rights Watch and Vital Voices.

So there's a starting point. Feel free to add on.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

MORE FROM Catherine Price

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Iraq Love And Sex Middle East