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

Women Fear Killer's Release

Kurdish women’s rights activists say blood money payment in a high-profile case sets a dangerous precedent for crimes against women.
By Azeez Mahmood
Women's groups in the Kurdish north of Iraq have expressed outrage that a convicted killer may be released after paying blood money to the family of his female victim.

Salih Ahmad, who goes by the name of Salih Muzali, is serving life in prison for the murder of 32-year-old Mahabad Abdullah in 1999. The family of Muzali, a wealthy and powerful man who formerly owned a car dealership, recently paid 170,000 dollars to the family of the dead woman, and could be released if he is granted amnesty by the Kurdistan region’s top official.

Kurdish women's groups have expressed outrage at the possibility that Muzali could be let out. The Halwest Group, an umbrella association of 37 women's organisations, last week called for the convict to be kept in prison.

The deal was reached by the families of Mahabad and Muzali with the help of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, one of two main parties in the Kurdish north. This is not unusual, as the big Kurdish parties maintain social affairs offices whose duties include supervising such reconciliation agreements, especially when blood has been spilled.

The agreement usually involves money as compensation for victims or their families, who then effectively forgive the perpetrators. Women never attend when these agreements are being hammered out.

Once the families have come to terms, the matter reverts to conventional criminal law. In such cases, the regional president – currently Masood Barzani – has the powers to grant amnesty to the convicted criminal.

Halwest member Najeeba Mahmood explained why her group was concerned about this case, "Women are afraid that tribal mentality will overcome the power of the law, especially when it comes to women's issues. This will pave the way for other people to abuse women and get away with the crime through tribal agreements. That is a serious threat to women."

Barzani’s spokesman Fouad Hussein noted that the president had received a letter of appeal from Halwest urging him not to give an amnesty to Muzali, but said he had not made a decision on the case yet.

The killing of Mahabad, who was described as extraordinarily beautiful, sent shock waves through the quiet city of Sulaimaniyah. But the case – as well as the subsequent murder of her sister Jwana – has never been explained satisfactorily.

Mahabad was found shot dead in a semi-deserted area of Sulaimaniyah in 1999. Muzali was suspected of involvement and went on trial, but was found not guilty.

Muzali was formerly a senior figure in the PUK and was a member of the peshmerga, the Kurdish guerrilla movement.

Nask Abdullah, another of Mahabad’s sisters, has alleged that Muzali and his family threatened Jwana and warned her not to testify against him during this trial. A brother of the sisters was reportedly shot dead outside the courthouse.

Two years later, both Nask and Jwana were abducted. The former was later found unconscious, while 24-year-old Jwana was found dead three days later.

Muzali became a suspect again, but maintained he was innocent of Jwana's murder was never put on trial for it. But in 2002, he admitted to killing Mahabad.

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, who is head of the PUK, has pledged never to allow Muzali’s release, Kurdish women's organisations say. But the independent Kurdish newspaper Awene this week printed a letter which Talabani purportedly signed in 2004 asking Omar Fatah, the then prime minister of the Sulaimaniyah administration, "to resolve the matter tribally". The letter indicates that this request was made after Muzali's brother pleaded for his release, saying that Mahabad's family believed he was.

Talabani spokesman Hiwa Othman said he was not aware of the letter.

Mahmood, of the Halwest association, said women's groups planned to confront Talabani if they can confirm that the letter is genuine.

As well as appealing to Barzani, Hawlest has also written to the Kurdistan regional parliament condemning the agreement reached by the two families. But the campaign has not won support from the Abdullah family.

Mahabad’s brother Ari Abdullah released a statement saying "we have no feud with Salih Muzali and his family", and confirmed that the Abdullah family had received 170,000 dollars as compensation for the murder.

"We don't have any problem with [Muzali] being released," said Ari. "We hope he will be set free under the law."

Contacted by IWPR, Ari Abdullah refused to comment further, saying that "this case is closed".

In an interview for the Awene newspaper, Muzali said that he did not use intimidation to secure the agreement, and is now waiting to be set free.

"This isn't the first time a person has made a mistake…" Muzali told Awene. "And she's not the first woman ever killed."

Azeez Mahmood is an IWPR contributor in Sulaimaniyah. Iraqi Crisis Report editor Tiare Rath contributed to this report.

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