Pride, shame at ‘martyr’s’ death

Village: Some neighbors see her as hero, but family angry she went out alone

BY SCHENEREZADE FARAMARZI The Associated Press: May 31, 2003

ZAQANIYAH, Iraq   There were few tears for Iman Salih Mutlak at her wake. She is a hero to some   a martyr who tried to kill U.S. soldiers with grenades, then died from their bullets   but her family feels nothing but shame.

Their rage comes not because of her planned attack, but because the 22 year old woman left the house alone and without permission from her father  thereby besmirching the honor of her tribe.

"When she left the house, she lost her innocence," said her 71 year old father, Salih Mutlak. "Had she returned home, I would have killed her myself and drunk her blood."

The tribal laws that have ruled the villages of Iraq for centuries say a man can take the life of a daughter or a sister if he feels she has betrayed the family's honor. In this deeply conservative culture, Mutlak did just that by going out without permission.

So the family says nothing about how she really died. To hide their shame, they maintain she died during surgery to remove her appendix.

The truth, which they eventually admitted to The Associated Press, is far different.

The coroner who performed Mutlak's autopsy wrote on her death certificate she died of 10 gunshot wounds May 25.

That day, American soldiers in­ Baqubah, 12 miles southwest of this village, shot a young woman they said was carrying grenades and trying to approach them.

That was Mutlak, who has earned the admiration of many in Baqubah who see the Americans as unwelcome, occupiers.

But what exactly happened is still blurry. Why would Mutlak, a peasant with little education who was never permitted to leave home alone, attack the soldiers? She was not involved in politics, and there is no evidence she was recruited by militants.

Capt. Josh Felker, public affairs officer of the division's 2nd Brigade, says Mutlak approached a checkpoint with grenades in her hands and around her waist.

As she walked forward, U.S. soldiers told her to stop, motioning for her to hit the ground. When she continued, they fired a warning shot and yelled for her to stop.

Soldiers heard something like a "rock hitting the ground and then an explosion," Felker said   apparently a grenade going off.

The soldiers opened fire, but she still didn't stop. "She was limping or crawling, but was still coming at them," Felker said. "Within our rules of engagement, we defended ourselves and took appropriate measures."

Some Iraqi witnesses in a nearby office said they heard no explosion.

They say the soldiers called for the woman to stop as she walked toward them, and when she kept walking they shot her. They said Mutlak was not carrying grenades and say the Americans claimed that to justify their act.

To some in Baqubah, Mutlak is a martyr. Since Saddam Hussein's ouster, U.S. soldiers have repeatedly come under attack in Iraq. Just this week, at least nine Americans died, five of them in attacks or ambushes, and two dozen were wounded.

"Anyone who resists the occupation is a hero," said Abdel Latif, 60, who did not want to give his last name.

"To us, any foreigner who comes here is an occupier, not a liberator," said Mohammed at Ahmad. "We don't want them to liberate us. They have come to take our oil."

American soldiers disagree. But even Felker acknowledged the situation could be seen from different angles.

"She was doing what she believed in. In my view, she was wrong," he said. But he acknowledged that Mutlak was "just like me   I'm willing to die for what I'm doing here."

The family is worried about retribution. "We are afraid of the Americans," her father said. "We are afraid they would kill us."

Her older sister, Salwa, said Mutlak was an. unhappy loner with no friends, and possibly Mentally disturbed. "If she had brains, she wouldn't have attacked a tank," said Salwa Mutlak, 30, who exhibited a cold sadness at losing her sister.

The sisters shared a room where they prayed, read the Quran and watched television. The younger sister liked sad Egyptian movies.

Salwa Mutlak said that on Sunday, when she and her mother woke from an afternoon nap, her sister was nowhere to be seen.

"It was the first time she had left the house on her own," said Salwa.

But how did Iman arrive at a US. army position in Baqubah? If she was carrying grenades, how did she get them? Was someone else behind the attack? Was she duped?

The only clue is the brief note she wrote her parents in pencil, in a child's handwriting and in poor Arabic. It gives few answers.

"Dear father, dear mother,

"I am going to carry out a martyrdom operation for the sake of God and for Islam and Muslims.

"Your sincere daughter, Iman."