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Blood Money and Iraqi Tribal Justice

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Blood Money and Iraqi Tribal Justice


Blood Money and Iraqi Tribal Justice

Blood Money and Iraqi Tribal Justice

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The story of how two Iraqi tribes settled a dispute with blood money highlights the depth of a timeless tradition built by Bedouins who have roamed the region for many centuries.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, some praise of franchise stores. But first, tribal traditions run deep in Iraq and stretch back to a time where the region was an uncharted landscape full of nomadic Bedouin tribes roaming in the desert. Before there were nations or governments, these tribes often settled disputes with gold, camels, sometimes even with women. Many of those traditions live on today in Iraq, where the government is considered incapable of meting out justice.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay has this story of two Iraqi tribes who try to settle a dispute using what's called blood money. But the outcome of this conflict remains a mystery.

JAMIE TARABAY: Ahmed Abdulkadar(ph) is a quiet man with a trimmed mustache. He's sitting in an office with his hands clasped over his stomach. In his calm way, he talks of how he wants to get his hands on the man who shot and killed his niece.

Mr. AHMED ABDULKADAR: (Through translator) All I want is his blood. I don't even want the money. I want his blood.

TARABAY: Doha Kasum Mohammad(ph) was 21. She'd been lame in her right leg since birth and her entire clan pitched in to pay for one surgery after another in the hope that one day she'd be able to walk normally. Last month, she and her eight-year-old brother were alone at their home in the southern port city of Basra when, Abdulkadar says, a man with a riffle knocked on the door.

Mr. ABDULKADAR: (Through translator) He pushed the door in and demanded money and gold. Doha woke up and told him they don't have any, but he frightened her, so she showed him the money and gold they had.

TARABAY: It was the equivalent of about $1,000, enough to pay the rent. But the thief wasn't satisfied.

Mr. ABDULKADAR: (Through translator) He searched the house and found nothing, then he loaded his riffle and threatened to shoot her.

TARABAY: The intruder blindfolded and gagged her. He locked her brother in the bathroom and then shot Doha three times in the head.

Mr. ABDULKADAR: (Through translator) There were men standing at a corner in the neighborhood. They heard the shots and took the license plate number of the car the man escaped in.

TARABAY: The men went to the local police to track down the car's owner. Then Abdulkadar's tribe called on the tribe of the suspected murderer.

Mr. ABDULKADAR: (Through translator) We waited for their answer and they told us to raised the funeral tent, so we did. His tribe came to our funeral. We told him, your son is a murderer. You have to bring him within two days. If you don't, we will demolish your house. We have men and they have weapons.

TARABAY: The accused man confessed to killing Doha, and his tribe tried to resolve the dispute with an offer of money. His family said it would sell a house and a car to raise enough to pay off Doha's relatives. The family also delivered the accused to the local police. But in Basra, the tribes hold more sway, and Abdulkadar says he's confident the judge overseeing the case will side with the victim's tribe.

Mr. ABDULKADAR: (Through translator) The judge almost cried. He told us he wouldn't know what to do when they bring the killer before him. He said if I tell you that I will sentence him to life, I'd be lying. I have to hang him. You might want to kill him, but I will kill him.

TARABAY: Sheikh Shami Abubaksan(ph) is a tribal leader who's frequently called on to resolve disputes. He says this case is typical.

Sheikh SHAMI ABUBAKSAN (Iraqi Tribal Leader): (Through translator) If there is a dispute between the two tribes, the state is force to ask the sheikhs to resolve the issue. This government and previous governments understand the role of the tribes and their influence in this country.

TARABAY: Abdulkadar's tribe has decided to accept the money offered by the tribe of the accused. But Abdulkadar says that won't end the case. With clenched fists, he says the family won't rest until it has blood.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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