Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq: May ‘07

Nationwide network of reporters contributes to unrivaled coverage of honour killing that threatened to turn into a new sectarian conflict.
So-called honour killings occur on a sadly regular basis in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Many cases don’t make it into the news. The family tries to cover up the crime, and often enough the authorities do not show great interest in investigating it.

Duaa Khalil Aswad’s case was different though, for many reasons. When one of our IWPR reporters first suggested filing a story about the killing of a girl from the Yezidi minority who’d converted Islam, the extent of cruelty and inhumanity involved was not immediately clear. Then the reporter sent a video of the crime, the stoning to death of the 17-year-old girl, which had been made with a cell phone by a witness of - or participant in - this brutal execution.

That itself would have made a bloodcurdling story. But, as is often the case in Iraq, there was a lot more to the story than is obvious at first sight. Even more so in this case, as days after the killing of the girl, several attacks against Yezidis took place in the region, culminating in the cold-blooded murder of 23 Yezidi labourers on their way home from a textile factory in Mosul.

In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, it seemed that a new ethnic conflict was about to break out.

Thanks to IWPR’s nationwide network of trainees and regular contributors, we were able to put together an investigative report on the alarming sequence of events.

The reporter who pitched the story went to Bashika, the village where the killing took place. Others contributed from Mosul, Erbil and Sulaimaniyah.

The ethnic diversity of the reporters - Arabs, Kurds and a Yezidi - guaranteed a balanced and fair report that provided more details and background than any other media outlet.

With the assistance of the IWPR Iraq editorial team, myself and Investigative Reporting Trainer Christoph Reuter, the reporters managed to provide an in-depth account of the Bashika execution; the motives behind the killing; and its political ramifications.

The resulting report, Honour Killing Sparks Fears of New Iraq Conflict, (<>) can be read as a parable of how a single incident can spark violence across an entire region, drawing into Iraq’ sectarian conflict a community that had previously not been involved in the bloodshed.

After the story was published on the IWPR website, it drew worldwide attention. During an interview with Chicago Public Radio, I was asked about the case. The “International Campaign Against Honour Killings” posted the IWPR report on their website, and human rights sites around the world picked up the story.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish authorities condemn the killing and promised to prosecute the perpetrators. At least this appalling murder will not go unnoticed.

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