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Iraqi Women Victimized By Tribal Marriage Customs

NINEVEH, Iraq — She set her small body on fire after pouring several liters of kerosene over herself and lighting a match. This is how she ended her life after her father refused to allow her to marry her lover and insisted she marry someone she did not know.

Shahnaz, who was not yet 25 years old, died at a burn center in Nineveh in April 2010 after physicians failed to save her from the injuries that disfigured her entire body. She is now another number on the long list of tragic victims of forced marriages. Kalnaz, Shahnaz’s younger sister, described the incident to Al-Monitor: “It was an ominous day, [but] we did not expect her to carry out this disastrous act.” She added, “Fire devoured my sister’s body while she screamed out against all those who were unjust to her.”

The decision made by Layla, 27, was different. She acquiesced to a marriage that she was forced into by her family, to live a life that she described as a “silent death,” rather than a “scandalous death,” after her family refused to allow her to marry her university classmate.

Layla wiped away her tears as she said, “It’s possible that my father and brothers could have killed me to remove the stain on their honor, had they suspected that I was refusing to marry one of my cousins because of a relationship with my classmate, who they had not allowed me to marry.” She added, “I had no other option.” The problem of forced marriage is not limited to Layla and Shahnaz. Thousands of women in all parts of Iraq share the same problem in the patriarchal and tribal society. The freedom of women, in general, is limited and their love lives, if discovered by the family, can create a pretext for her murder.

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