Two weeks ago, The Observer revealed how 17-year-old student Rand Abdel-Qader was beaten to death by her father after becoming infatuated with a British soldier in Basra. In this remarkable interview, Abdel-Qader Ali explains why he is unrepentant - and how police backed his actions. Afif Sarhan in Basra and Caroline Davies report
Afif Sarhan in Basra and Caroline Davies
The Observer, Sunday May 11 2008
For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. 'If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her,' he said with no trace of remorse.
Two weeks after The Observer revealed the shocking story of Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, murdered because of her infatuation with a British solider in Basra, southern Iraq, her father is defiant. Sitting in the front garden of his well-kept home in the city's Al-Fursi district, he remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.
Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. Astonishingly, he said, police congratulated him on what he had done. 'They are men and know what honour is,' he said.
Rand, who was studying English at Basra University, was deemed to have brought shame on her family after becoming infatuated with a British soldier, 22, known only as Paul.
She died a virgin, according to her closest friend Zeinab. Indeed, her 'relationship' with Paul, which began when she worked as a volunteer helping displaced families and he was distributing water, appears to have consisted of snatched conversations over less than four months. But the young, impressionable Rand fell in love with him, confiding her feelings and daydreams to Zeinab, 19.
It was her first youthful infatuation and it would be her last. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand's two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust.
'Death was the least she deserved,' said Abdel-Qader. 'I don't regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion,' he said.
Sitting on a chair by his front door and surrounded by the gerberas and white daisies he had planted in the family garden, Abel-Qader attempted to justify his actions.
'I don't have a daughter now, and I prefer to say that I never had one. That girl humiliated me in front of my family and friends. Speaking with a foreign solider, she lost what is the most precious thing for any woman. 'People from western countries might be shocked, but our girls are not like their daughters that can sleep with any man they want and sometimes even get pregnant without marrying. Our girls should respect their religion, their family and their bodies.
'I have only two boys from now on. That girl was a mistake in my life. I know God is blessing me for what I did,' he said, his voice swelling with pride. 'My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.'
Abdel-Qader, a Shia, says he was released from the police station 'because everyone knows that honour killings sometimes are impossible not to commit'. Chillingly, he said: 'The officers were by my side during all the time I was there, congratulating me on what I had done.' It's a statement that, if true, provides an insight into how vast the gulf remains between cultures in Iraq and between the Basra police the British army that trains them.
Sources have indicated that Abdel-Qader, who works in the health department, has been asked to leave because of the bad publicity, yet he will continue to draw a salary.
And it has been alleged by one senior unnamed official in the Basra governorate that he has received financial support by a local politician to enable him to 'disappear' to Jordan for a few weeks, 'until the story has been forgotten' - the usual practice in the 30-plus cases of 'honour' killings that have been registered since January alone.
Such treatment seems common in Basra, where militias have partial control, especially in the districts on the outskirts where Abdel-Qader lives.
While government security forces and British troops have control over the centre, around the fringes militants can still be seen everywhere on the streets or at the checkpoints they have erected. And they have imposed strict laws of behaviour for all the local people, including what clothing should be worn and what religious practices should be observed. There are reports of men having their hands cut off for looting and women being killed for prostitution.
Homosexuality is punishable by death, a sentence Abdel-Qader approves of with a passion. 'I have alerted my two sons. They will have the same end [as Rand] if they become contaminated with any gay relationship. These crimes deserve death - death in the name of God,' he said.
He said his daughter's 'bad genes were passed on from her mother'. Rand's mother, 41, remains in hiding after divorcing her husband in the immediate aftermath of the killing, living in fear of retribution from his family. She also still bears the scars of the severe beating he inflicted on her, breaking her arm in the process, when she told him she was going. 'They cannot accept me leaving him. When I first left I went to a cousin's home, but every day they were delivering notes to my door saying I was a prostitute and deserved the same death as Rand,' she said.
'She was killed by animals. Every night when go to bed I remember the face of Rand calling for help while her father and brothers ended her life,' she said, tears streaming down her face.
She was nervous, clearly terrified of being found, and her eyes constantly turned towards the window as she spoke. 'Rand told me about the soldier, but she swore it was just a friendship.
'She said she spoke with him because she was the only English speaker. I raised her in a religious manner and she never went out alone until she joined the university and then later when she was doing aid work.
'Even now, I cannot believe my ex-husband was able to kill our daughter. He wasn't a bad person. During our 24 years of marriage, he was never aggressive. But on that day, he was a different person.'
The mother is now trying to raise enough money to escape abroad. 'I miss my two boys,' she said. 'But they have sent a message saying that I am wrong for defending Rand and that I should go back home and live like a blessed Muslim woman,' said Leila, who is now volunteering with a local organisation campaigning for better protection for women in Basra.
One of those running the organisation, who did not want to be identified, said that Rand's case was similar to so many reported in Basra, with the only difference being she was in love with a foreigner, rather than an Iraqi.
'There isn't too much to say. Rand is dead. It is a tragedy and will be a tragedy for many other families in Iraq in the days to come.
'According to information we have been given, some from Rand's colleague, we have doubts that her love was reciprocated. We have the impression that Rand was in love, but the English soldier wasn't. But, for a girl to be paid nice compliments about her beauty and her intelligence, it was enough for her to think she was in love.
'She isn't here any more for her mother to ask any of the questions she would like to. Rand's case had repercussions because she fell in love with a foreigner. But what about the other girls murdered through "honour" killings because they fell in love with some of a different sect, or lost their virginity, or were forced to become prostitutes?'
Rand's mother used to call her 'Rose'. 'That was my nickname for her because when she was born she was so beautiful,' she said.
'Now, my lovely Rose is in her grave. But, God will make her father pay, either in this world ... or in the world after.'