Police used chains to pull the bodies out. Photo: KNNC
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region - A photograph of two bodies being dragged out of a pond with chains has caused even a greater outcry in Iraqi Kurdistan than the murder of the two young sisters involved.
“We intend to visit the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ask them about it,” says Parwa Ali, an MP in the Kurdistan parliament for the Change Movement (Gorran), the second-largest Kurdish party.
“This is too terrible. It is clear that the police from top to bottom needs training.”
The bodies of two sisters (aged 16 and 18) were found in a pond in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Said Sadiq, some 50 kilometers from Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second-biggest city. They had been missing for two weeks, after appearing in court to fight their family’s opposition to marrying men they had chosen themselves.
The police used chains to pull the bodies out of the water.
“That is what you would use for a cow, not a human!” protests Ali, who was told the police resorted to this because of the state of the bodies, and for lack of better equipment.
“They should have a special team for floods and people drowning. But there is no planning, not for any kind of emergency.”
Ali, who was elected in September, will take up the matter with her faction. Gorran is presently part of the opposition but expected to become part of the next Kurdistan cabinet, whose formation is still being negotiated by the main political parties more than five months after elections.
The picture of the girls, floating face down, was shared on Facebook, which led to reactions of shock and disgust.
“It shows the low value (that) is given to women,” someone commented. The condemnations of the way the bodies were handled overshadowed those protesting the deaths.
Ali suggests that was possibly because the case was seen as just another probable murder of women in Kurdistan, or so-called “honor killings.” On the same day, a girl of 16 was killed by her father, after the shelter where she had sought refuge handed her over to her uncle.
“Honor killings” are a common feature in Iraqi Kurdistan, where women who are deemed to have dishonored the family by associating with men who are not immediate relatives are killed by a relative. Every year, there are hundreds of such murders, with victims often set on fire or forced into committing suicide.
The Said Sadiq case derives from a bad family situation, says Ali. “It is the combination of poverty and mental health. One of the girls is said to have talked about suicide.”
The case itself remains murky. There is talk that the girls were out begging when they met men who wanted to marry them, but that account is refuted by the family. The reason for the deaths -- or if there was possible exploitation or abuse -- remains unclear.
Khanim Latif, who heads Asuda, an independent organization in Sulaimani fighting to protect women from violence, says that greater political will is needed to combat the scourge of killing for honor.
“We need independent courts, and we need the covering up of killers to stop,” she says. “Instead, independent organizations are threatened when they try to uncover cases.”
The fact that violence against women still remains at a worrying level despite government-funded and independent organizations to combat the issue, women’s groups have come in for serious criticism.
“We have the women organizations of the parties, a High Commission for Women Affairs and a special board for violence against women – but nothing is changed,” says Latif. “We don’t need them, they cannot do anything.”
Critics argue that organizations like Latif’s only focus on violence against women while men are victims, too.
“But men do not get killed because they use their mobile phone, because they are suspected of having sex or because they run away,” Latif counters the criticism.
For her part, Ali says that even though they have a common goal, women’s organizations haven’t been able to come together and coordinate on their projects.
“We still do not work together,” she explains. “All the organizations from the different parties and groups work separately. There are no good strategic plans, and not even good data. And far too little is done to raise the awareness.”