By ZIYAD KHAL af al-AJELY
INSTITUTE FOR WAR & amp; PEACE REPORTING
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Faeq Ameen Bakr, director general of Baghdad's Institute of Forensic Medicine, often writes "killed to wash away her disgrace" in the many autopsy reports and investigations that cross his desk.
The number of so-called honor killings -- when a woman is killed by family members because they believe she has in some way shamed them -- is said to have increased sharply since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Iraq is a tribal society where honor killings are an accepted practice.
Bakr said different motives drive families to such drastic actions. It may be because the woman married someone the family disapproves of or because she has refused to accept her family's choice of marriage partner. Sometimes it's because she has been raped.
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, more than 400 rapes have been reported since the fall of Saddam's regime in 2003. More than half of those victims were later murdered by their families.
The authorities say they take honor killings seriously, but punishments are often not severe.
A police captain, who asked that his name not be used, said he knew of one case where a man was sentenced to one month in prison and docked a month's pay for assisting in the murder of his unmarried sister.
Women's rights activist Amaal al-Mualimchi said women are so fearful of falling victim to honor killings that that have become virtual prisoners in their own homes.
"Women have two choices -- exposing themselves to the threat of rape, after which they will be killed by their families, or house imprisonment," she said.
Jwan Ameen said the women's affairs ministry is attempting to establish safe houses for women facing such threats.
"But we are still facing difficulties because we don't have a budget for it," said Ameen.
Private organizations, such as the Women's Freedom Organization, are also trying to bring attention to the problem.
X Ziyad Khalaf al-Ajely is a journalist in Iraq who writes for The Institute for War & amp; Peace Reporting in London. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.