Kurds Tackle 'Honor Killings' of Women

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 6, 2007; 5:59 PM

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq -- She is 18, unmarried and eight months pregnant. She hates it when the baby shifts and kicks in her womb.

"I don't hate the child," she said. "But the movements keep reminding me of my past."

After she gives birth in secrecy, she will give up her child for what she describes as her family's honor. Then she will travel home to the Kurdish area of northwestern Iran to find a husband who knows nothing of her story.

Secrecy is essential, because in her world, a child out of wedlock can lead to an "honor killing" _ her murder by a relative to protect her family's honor. So she is known in this city only as Banaz, a nickname.

Tarza, 22, also uses a nickname. She sits on a sofa and weeps, wiping her nose with her leopard print head scarf. She gave birth out of wedlock in 2003, a few months after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, and says her male-dominated clan wanted to kill her for sullying their reputation.

Tarza, an Iraqi Kurd, said the threats persist. She lives alone with help from a women's center that arranged for an Iranian family in Sweden to adopt her child.

"I don't want to see the child," Tarza said, her face taut.

Honor killings, driven by the view that a family's honor is paramount, are an ancient tradition associated with Kurdish regions of Iraq, Iran and Turkey as well as tribal areas in Pakistan and some Arab societies.

While the rest of Iraq is preoccupied with the violence that has followed the U.S. invasion of 2003, the more peaceful Kurdish enclave of the country stands out in its attitude to honor killings. Here, officials who long ignored this explosive and deeply personal issue of family pride are seeking to curb the murders.

Civic activists welcome the regional government's condemnations of the custom and warnings of tough penalties, but say much more education and law enforcement is needed.

This year, the British government arranged for a delegation of Iraqi Kurds to travel to Pakistan to talk with officials there about their experience in combating the brutal tradition.

Some reports cite several hundred honor killings or related suicides a year in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has more than 4 million people. But there are no reliable statistics for a crime that is difficult to prove without effective law enforcement and the cooperation of tribal communities.

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