In Rare Decision, Iraqi Judiciary Jails Husband over Wife’s Suicide

Menasa , Karbala


It is highly unusual for Iraqi courts to side with the wife’s family over a husband’s wrong-doing. Traditionally male partners have total control over the family.


A court in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala has jailed a man, whose wife took her own life after the couple quarreled. The husband had taken a second wife without telling his first partner. He had only sought permission from his mother.

Islam’s most holy book, the Koran, says that its male adherents may marry up to four women if they wish. The Koran says that a Muslim can take that many brides but that if he does, he must be certain of being able “deal justly” with all of them.

Iraq’s personal status law of 1959 made allowances for polygyny in the country; after all, previous to this law, personal status cases – that is births, marriages, divorces and so forth – were decided by Islamic, or Sharia, law. So the legislation followed that example, saying that if a man can prove that there is some lawful benefit to taking another wife and that he can afford to provide for both wives, then a judge may grant him permission to take two wives. But the would-be husband must get judicial permission. If he does not, there are penalties that include imprisonment and fines. Most of the time though, courts find for the male partner in cases like this.

That is why this decision is of significance – it is very rare for the Iraqi judiciary to find in the wife’s favour in a case like this.

The unfortunate woman committed suicide by drowning in December last year. After hearing about the second wife, the first wife took a taxi to a reservoir and threw herself in the water in front of the shocked cab driver. The cab driver was unable to swim and couldn’t help the woman, but he was able to alert the police about where to recover the woman’s body.

The suicide victim’s family filed a complaint with the police against her husband. The couple had been married for just over ten years and the husband only informed his partner of his second marriage, after the wedding ceremony had been completed. During the court case it was revealed that the man had prevented the woman from leaving their matrimonial home with their two children. After this, she managed to escape and drowned herself.

The victim’s aunt had witnessed the quarrel in person, which is why the case was able to be proven. The family accused the husband of not informing his wife of his second partner and then not doing anything to prevent her consequent suicide.




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