Nourzan Al-Shammari's murder shines light on domestic violence and 'honour killings' in Iraq
Among the crimes which have shaken Iraq recently is the brutal murder of Nourzan Al-Shammari (20), who was stabbed to death in Al-Jadriya, a neighbourhood in central Baghdad late in August. The surveillance cameras and security personnel close by did not protect her.
Two days later the Iraqi forces announced that they had arrested the murderer – who turned out to be Nourzan's brother. He confessed to the crime and stated that he had been aided by his cousins and that they had killed her due to family problems – allegedly for her refusing to marry a cousin. According to a statement by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, last Saturday, "her brother stabbed her with the help of two of her cousins".
Violence against women is increasing
Observers report that cases of domestic violence are escalating in Iraq and are resulting in around five fatalities every week. However, feminist activists say these numbers are inaccurate, especially because some deaths occur in mysterious circumstances and are not recorded by the security or health services. In some cases, they may be reported as accidents, especially when the husband, brother or father is the perpetrator.
"Iraq does not have a law against domestic violence. Elements within the Iraqi parliament have prevented one being passed for years, justifying their opposition by stating that they see it as an attempt to mimic westerners"
Preventative legislation is viewed as mimicking the West
Iraq does not have a law against domestic violence. Elements within the Iraqi parliament have prevented one from being passed for years, justifying their opposition by stating that they see it as an attempt to mimic Westerners.
They claim that legislation must be preserved which allows husbands and fathers to "discipline" their wives and children through beating them as long as they do not overstep "certain limits prescribed by law or by custom".
Article 41 of the Iraqi penal code stipulates that: "There is no crime if the act is committed while exercising a legal right". The law gives a husband a legal right to "punish" his wife and parents and teachers to "discipline" children.
The police will usually suffice with carrying out a reconciliation process between the two sides, in which the perpetrator of the violence, whether parent or husband, will make a pledge not to repeat the violence. In cases when this is the father, his children will be forced to return home if they have left seeking safety.
Dire conditions provide the backdrop to rising abuse
An officer from the Iraqi community police confirms that there has been a gradual increase in cases of murder and physical abuse happening within Iraqi families which he puts down to a number of reasons: "Widespread unemployment, a shattered economy, drug abuse, and a lack of mutual respect between married couples or family members – these issues are in many cases leading to a severe deterioration in relations and in some cases to the physical assault which leads to death".
Women's rights activist, Noor Abdullah Al-Azawi says that those who have been following the issue of domestic violence in Iraq have observed the rising rate of crimes occurring within families.
"This can be due to a complete lack of understanding between the two sides based on their different viewpoints. Sometimes it will be things like the woman demanding the right to work, or even go for walks, or sometimes it's the husband cheating on his wife. Of course, none of these reasons calls for murder, but that is what we are currently seeing in Iraq."
"There is an urgent need to pass a law against domestic violence to protect Iraqi families, and ensure the safeguarding of the rights of both husband and wife in cases where bodily assault occurs, or even verbal abuse"
Domestic violence bill needed urgently
Al-Azawi emphasises to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister publication, that "there is an urgent need to pass a law against domestic violence to protect Iraqi families, and ensure the safeguarding of the rights of both husband and wife in cases where bodily assault occurs, or even verbal abuse."
Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had previously shown his resolve to pass a domestic violence law, after it was raised in Parliament by the Council of Ministers, acknowledging that the law would protect "vulnerable elements of society" like children and women. Likewise, it would punish violent assault and murder.
The law being discussed in parliament was the result of years in which local and international organisations were repeatedly demanding such protective legislation be introduced. This was in response to rising rates of domestic violence in the period leading up to and during the months-long lockdown imposed with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Moreover, Iraqi politician Shirouk Alabayachi says that the Iraqi government and parliament have a draft of the domestic violence law ready to be enacted and its implementation facilitated in coordination with the security and judicial authorities.
"However, certain politicians and religious parties – especially hard-line religious groups – are blocking it: they say this law will lead to the breakdown of Iraqi families."
Other parties claim that this law would represent an unwelcome step towards replicating a Western way of life and say it is incompatible with Iraqi society which is conservative and tribal.
Alabayachi emphasises her opposition to this standpoint: "Without a strong law applicable to domestic violence cases, we will keep seeing the same crimes again and again."
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.