The Dishonorable Death of Doa

Marchers protest the stoning death of 17-year-old Iraqi girl named Doa.


May 6, 2007 — -- Video clips of the killing posted on the Internet are shaky, grainy and sickeningly barbaric. Shot by cell phone, the camera weaves in and out through a throng of angry, screaming men, bringing the viewer right up close to a brutal and ancient form of retribution: death by stoning.

On the ground, in the center of the crowd, lies a lone young woman. Covered in dirt and bleeding heavily from cuts to her face and head, she writhes in pain. Men break free from the mob and rush forward to throw stones or strike out with their feet, kicking savagely. Above the din of roaring voices, are men laughing in the background. The woman's pitiful groans of agony can be clearly heard as she awaits her death.

Her name was Doa and she was only 17 years old. She grew up in northern Iraq near Mosul, in the village of Bahzani, and was a member of a religious minority called the Yazidi. Friends say the only thing she did to invite such an outpouring of anger was run off to marry a young Sunni man she had fallen in love with, and convert to Islam.

It was this conversion to Islam that sealed Doa's death warrant. Her relatives were so filled with rage they kidnapped her, dragged her back to the village and had her stoned to death to pay for what they viewed as crimes against their religion.

Scores of men from Doa's own family and neighborhood gathered in the village square to carry out the honor killing in the full light of day. Hundreds more stood at the back and watched with curiosity.

Villagers have justified the killing as little more than an internal matter.

"This was simply a tribal and moral incident," Neef Shangari, a village lawyer, told ABC News. "It has nothing to do with religion."

The Internet clips were posted by a Kurdish group called the International Campaign Against Killings and Stoning of Women, which is striving to bring attention to revenge attacks like this.

"Women in Kurdistan and Iraq are oppressed. The few rights they do have are very limited and in most cases they are treated as subhuman," read a statement accompanying the video. "Killings, suicide, and violence against women are an everyday occurrence in this region."

The group also accused local police of not stepping in, saying, "On the contrary, they were present and paving the way for this horrific crime to be carried out."

In one of the clips, filmed just before the stoning began, several Iraqi police officers are clearly seen standing at the edge of the crowd, watching passively as the young woman is dragged, crying, into the melee.

Yazidis are followers of a pre-Islamic religious faith and have often been targets of discrimination and attacks in Iraq. Orthodox Islam labels the Yazidi as heretics and devil worshippers because they revere fire and pray to an angel in the form of a blue peacock.

In a nation being torn apart at the seams along sectarian lines, Doa's death has sparked new attacks against Yazidis, echoing similar violence in the rest of the country between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

Neighboring Sunnis, upon hearing of her murder, went to police and demanded those who took part in the stoning be arrested and face justice.

After three weeks of inaction, on April 22, a group of armed men, presumed to be Sunnis, stopped a busload of textile factory workers from Bahzani. They separated 23 Yazidis from the rest, lined them up against a wall and shot them all. Only three survived, with serious wounds.

In an attempt to prevent the situation spiralling further out of control, police have finally begun looking into the stoning.

"Seven people have been arrested now and are being questioned," one police officer, who declined to be identified, told ABC News. "All of those who were involved should be punished, whether it was an honor crime or not."

Because of the levels of violence throughout most of Iraq right now, there are no figures available on how many mercy killings occur every year. With scores of executed bodies showing up on the streets and empty lots of Baghdad and cities in the west and south of the country every day, it would be nearly impossible to discover if any of them had been victims of honor killings.

Paxshan Zangana, a member of Kurdistan's parliament and head of its women's rights committee, says that even in the north of Iraq, where it's relatively peaceful, authorities don't often learn about honor killings because of their secretive nature.

"There are no reliable data about women being killed, or even general violence against women," she told ABC News.

Often occurring in remote villages, it used to be common knowledge in northern Iraq that honor killings of women did occasionally take place, according to Zangana, but now they're becoming more frequent.

"The number of times we heard about honor killings was going down throughout the 1990s," she said, "but lately, in the past two years, we've been hearing more frequent reports about these killings and other kinds of violence against women. It's getting close to becoming a phenomenon."

After the textile workers were taken off their bus and shot, Yazidis asked the Iraqi government and international aid organizations to protect them from further attacks.

"Fundamentalist organizations like al Qaeda in Iraq, and others, are using this as an opportunity to target Yazidis," said Shangari.

To pressure groups trying to stop honor killings, shifting the focus of Doa's death to Sunni retaliation means that most of those responsible for her death may never face justice, which only adds insult to the sight of her lifeless, bloodstained, body surrounded by a crowd of joyful men satisfied with their grim work.

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