Harsh Reality for Many Iraqi Women

In a nation seized by horrific violence, it is rare for any one killing to stand out. But the case of a recent "honor killing" in Iraq has the world's attention.

The killing of a 17-year-old girl named Doa was conducted in public by members of the victim's family as retaliation for a forbidden relationship with an outsider. Doa was a member of the Yazidi tribe, a subsection of Kurds that practice a discreet religion that forbids marrying outsiders.

The killing was captured on video by cell phone and the graphic images were soon distributed around the world through the Internet. Though revenge killing is a longtime practice in this region, this particular crime's capture on video meant that the gruesome tradition was put on international display as the United States is desperately trying to forge a stable future in Iraq.

The killing occurred a full two months before the video surfaced, and though there is now an international outcry for justice from human rights groups, including Amnesty International, the incident initially went unnoticed by authorities even though the video shows Iraqi police officers present during the killing.

Though shocking, the circumstances around Doa's death may be anything but extraordinary, and point to a larger problem the United States and Iraq faces in forging a civil society that protects human rights.

"Incidents like this are shocking when they become publicized," Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told ABC News. "One of the unfortunate realities as any human rights report can tell you is they occur far too often and that almost all of them are simply ignored and are part of everyday life, grim as that may be."

While the appalling nature of revenge killings like Doa's prompt strong reactions, Cordesman warns that sweeping efforts by outsiders to change centuries-old attitudes and practices will likely be ineffective.

"It's a brutal reality that you can pass human rights laws that are very modern, put them into a constitution, have them passed by a council of the republic in Iraq and it has almost no meaning in remote or tribal areas," he said. "In many of these areas the police don't deal with many of these issues or they will simply ignore them. You can't bring them to trial. People will give way to a tribal leader or to a conference of tribes. If there is an accepted custom in which revenge killings take place or the rights of women are ignored because tribal custom doesn't protect them, that's the reality on the ground, and it's true in Afghanistan and most of central Asia."

Justice for victims of honor crimes is rare. Iraqis often permit monetary payments to substitute for criminal prosecution. Cultural norms also allow for the perpetrators of revenge killings to mitigate the seriousness of their crimes through claims of a perceived act of dishonor by the victim.

"People guilty of so-called honor crimes get off with very, very light sentences because the fact that it was for family honor is considered a mitigating circumstance," said Beth Ann Toupin, Iraq Country Specialist for Amnesty International. "You get a year of probation or very, very light sentences."

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