Iraq. Blood Feud tradition in Kurdistan Region. November, 2017

Within Iraq, blood feuds are primarily a Kurdish phenomenon. ‘As in all tribal communities, the blood feud is widespread throughout Kurdistan. Its pattern and intensity vary from one place to another and are influenced by a number of factors. It is strongest in the more purely tribal areas and weakest in regions where, for various reasons, the process of detribalization is most advanced and the influence of the external administration is greatest. Blood feuds are more widespread in Northern Kurdistan [in Turkey] than in other parts of Kurdistan, and incidents of it are decreasing as the power of tribal leaders decreases.[1]

Traditionally, blood feuds are intertribal affairs. When a Kurd is murdered by someone from another tribe, not only the lineage of the dead man, but the whole tribe comes together for an extra-juridical form of punishment, usually provoking countermeasures that lead to escalated tribal warfare. It was the custom for women and children to be exempted from blood feuds.[2]

According to Article 15 Iraqi Constitution: “Every individual has the right to enjoy life, security and liberty. Deprivation or restriction of these rights is prohibited except in accordance with the law and based on a decision issued by a competent judicial authority.”[3]

If a person takes revenge against the perpetrator of an honour killing, that person is punishable by execution. Human Rights Watch said that compared to south and central Iraq, the effectiveness in terms of law enforcement in KRI is higher. An international humanitarian organisation characterized law enforcement in KRI as exceptionally effective but said that it varies in other Kurdish controlled areas. The Kurdish authorities have the potential to provide very effective security in the areas that they control. However, stated that if Kurdish authorities do not want to protect an individual, they can also enforce that very effectively. The possibility to receive protection from KRI authorities depends on who the persecutor is. The authorities would not protect an individual in case the person had a conflict with a politician. In line with this, Human Rights Watch characterized the Kurdish court system as being under political influence and used to stifle dissent and target critical voices, including journalists. ‘According to UNHCR, there is very little regard of law enforcement among the local population in KRI and people do not make use of the police or the courts. UNHCR said that the courts are not seen to respond, even though, in principle, they have a number of excellent laws meeting international standards.[4]

Blood feuds involving the chiefs themselves, however, are much more difficult to settle. Fasl (settlement of the blood feud) entails the payment of blood money, known in Kurdish simply as khwin (blood). In addition to blood money, it is customary for the offender’s family to present the aggrieved party with a horse and to give away a girl in marriage to a member of the victim’s family in order to allay feelings of vengeance (tola) and to unite the two families involved. ‘The settlement of a blood feud is entrusted either to a person of prestige in the community or to a council of chiefs or elders…A blood feud often flares up again even though a settlement has been made.[5]

‘An important practice connected with the blood feud is the granting of asylum (pana) to the offender. A breach of asylum by the offender is viewed seriously, and those guilty of it are liable to retaliation by the person granting the asylum, usually a person of influence. The settlement of a breach of asylum entails payment of a certain amount of money known as wuskir as compensation for the dishonour and injury done to the granter of asylum. Blood feuds can be settled by ‘killing a member of the khams that murdered the family member or more commonly through managing financial compensation for the death (al-diya).[6]

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in their position on returns to Iraq dated November 2016, stated: ‘Tribes commonly resolve disputes in line with tribal customs. Typically, tribes would first seek a resolution through arbitration and the payment of financial compensation – “blood money” – to the family of the victim (“fasl” or “diva”) in cases of murder, physical harm and damage or loss of property. The injured party in turn gives up the right to retribution. Only where tribes fail to resolve disputes between them by peaceful means do such conflicts turn into blood feuds, which may give rise to long cycles of retaliatory violence and revenge.[7]

The Danish Refugee Council (DRS) and Danish Immigration Service (DIS) fact-finding mission to the KRI. In their report of the mission they commented that some tribes are above the authorities, which means that they may also be able to offer protection. In line with this, IOM [International Organisation of Migration] said that informal mediation is very common in all kinds of disputes in KRI. Correspondingly, various other sources referred to a possibility to seek protection from other actors than the authorities, such as family, religious leaders, tribes, militias, clan-affiliates with political power and private security companies. The sources, however, indicated that the protection would only be offered to those with the right affiliation. In addition, UNHCR said that such protection would be for a limited period of time and not be effective or legitimate. Correspondingly, Human Rights Watch said that it could not be considered as effective protection for the enjoyment of human rights.[8]

[1] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Blood feuds, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

[accessed 30 November 2017]

[2] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Blood feuds, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

[accessed 30 November 2017]

[3] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Kurdish ‘honour’ crimes, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

 [accessed 30 November 2017]

[4] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Kurdish ‘honour’ crimes, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

 [accessed 30 November 2017]

[5] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Blood feuds, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

[accessed 30 November 2017]

[6] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Blood feuds, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

[accessed 30 November 2017]

[7] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Blood feuds, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

[accessed 30 November 2017]

[8] United Kingdom: Home Office, Country Policy and Information Note – Iraq: Blood feuds, August 2017, v 1.0, available at:

[accessed 30 November 2017]