Mother of "honor" killing victim murdered in Iraq

Leila Hussein, the Iraqi woman who dared to leave her husband after he brutally murdered their 17-year-old daughter, was shot in the street.

Published June 3, 2008 5:20PM (EDT)

About two weeks ago, I wrote about the "honor" killing of Rand Abdel-Qader, a 17-year-old Iraqi who was murdered by her father -- with her brothers' help -- after he learned that she had developed a crush on a British soldier. Her only interaction with the soldier was a few conversations, but apparently that was enough for her father to suffocate and stab her. As I mentioned in my previous post, he claimed to have no regret over what he'd done, offering up choice quotes like, "If I'd realized what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her."

It's a sickening story, and unfortunately it has an unhappy ending. Rand Abdel-Qader's mother -- who left her father after her daughter was killed -- was just murdered. According to the Guardian, Leila Hussein had been moving from safe house to safe house every few days, hiding until she could be smuggled to Jordan. On May 17, while she and two female volunteer workers from a women's rights NGO were on their way to meet the person who would help her escape, she was gunned down in the street.

Iraqi police are calling her death a "sectarian attack" and claiming that it wasn't linked to her family. Instead they say the target was the women activists, and that Hussein was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps. But as the article points out, the two volunteers were wounded, one bullet apiece, in their arm and leg. Hussein was shot three times, including once to the head.

But in the end, does it really matter? The point is that women in Iraq are being murdered -- some for standing up to their husbands, others for helping other women. (Two other activists from the same women's organization that tried to help Hussein have been killed since February 2006, including the organization's founder and only man.) NGOs like the one that tried to help Hussein are leaving Iraq out of fear for their workers' safety. And instead of being prosecuted, the victims' killers -- like Rand's father -- claim that the police praise what they have done. Even in the hospital, as doctors struggled to save Hussein's life, one of the aid workers says that she "could hear people talking in the corridors and the only thing they had to say was that Leila was wrong for defending her daughter's mistakes and that her death was God's punishment."

One of the most haunting parts of the article is a quote from Hussein herself, who was interviewed by the Guardian just weeks before she was murdered. "No man can accept being left by a woman in Iraq," she said. "But I would prefer to be killed than sleep in the same bed as a man who was able to do what he did to his own daughter."

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.

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