BAGHDAD -- Sometimes, it's the forbidden stories, the ones people are afraid to tell in full, the ones that emerge only in fragments, that reveal the truth about a place.

This is such a story.

It's being told now not because the complete truth is known, but because the story nags at those familiar with its outlines, and because it says as much about Iraq's progress as it does about Iraq's resistance to change.

This much is known:

A young woman imprisoned in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, sent a letter to her brother last summer, appealing for help. The woman, named Dalal, wrote that she was pregnant after being raped by prison guards.

The brother asked to visit her. Guards obliged. The brother walked into her cell, drew a gun and shot his visibly pregnant sister dead.

His goal: to spare his family the taint of a pregnancy out of wedlock, a disgrace in Iraq often averted through so-called honor killings of women by their relatives.

For prison guards, the killing was also a relief.

"They believed that her death would end the case," said a lab worker at Baghdad's central morgue, where the victim's body -- still carrying the 5-month-old fetus -- was sent.

The case might have ended there were it not for the morgue employee, who was determined to see those responsible held to account.

At the employee's insistence, lab workers using freshly acquired DNA-testing equipment drew a sample from the fetus. The prison guards were ordered to submit DNA samples and did so, apparently unaware of the sophistication of the morgue equipment and the people trained to use it.

"They thought we were incapable of figuring it out," said the morgue employee.

The DNA results showed that the father of the unborn baby was a police lieutenant colonel who reportedly supervised guards at the prison.

In another society, the scientific evidence would have led to arrests and prosecution. But this being Iraq, the power wielded by men in uniform and the belief that a raped woman is better off dead combined to cloud the truth.


Months passed after word leaked of the killing on a sweltering summer day. Just as it nagged at the morgue worker, it nagged at us. But how to tell a story that nobody wants told? Everyone had different, usually conflicting, versions of what had happened.

Only the morgue worker's story remained the same, repeated in phone calls and e-mails as summer turned to fall and then winter.

Then, it was time for one of us to leave Iraq. A colleague asked what the reporter's final story would be. There must be one after so long in the country, he insisted.

"Isn't there a story that got away?" he asked.