Leyla Qasim: Woman who judged her executioners

“My execution will wake up thousands of Kurds from their sleep,” said Kurdish political activist Leyla Qasim, who was executed in Baghdad 49 years ago today.


News Center- Leyla Qasim, who is known as “Leyla of Kurdistan”, “The hero of her people who love their country”, was executed in Baghdad on May 12, 1987 by the Iraqi Ba'ath regime. Today, she is a symbol of courage and resistance for the Kurdish women chanting the slogan, “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” by removing their hijab.

Leyla Qasim was a Feyli Kurd born in 1952 in the Bamili village of Khanaqin district of Iraq’s Diyala province. She was the only daughter of a family of five children. The meaning of Leyla in Arabic is “Night” or “Dark”. She was named Leyla because she was born at night. Her family was a poor Kurdish family. She always moved from one place to another with her family because of their Kurdish identity. In 1958, they moved to Baghdad.

After completing her high school education in Baghdad, she studied sociology at the University of Baghdad. When she was 20, she joined the Kurdistan Students’ Union. At the university, she wrote an article on the Kurdophobia of Saddam Hussein. After her article was published, she was targeted by the Iraqi Ba'ath regime. At every opportunity, Leyla, who became an active militant of the struggle for liberation of the Kurds, said, “Slavery is not the fate of the Kurds”.

She was arrested by the Ba’ath regime forces

In 1974, the Iraqi Ba'ath regime intensified its attacks on the Kurds. The Kurdish families were forced to leave Baghdad. The regime forces launched airstrikes on Kurdish town Qalladze. Hundreds of people were killed in the airstrikes. Leyla Qasim and her four comrades planned to hijack a plane to make the Iraqi Ba'ath regime attacks against the Kurdish people heard all around the world. On April 24, 1974, the Ba’ath regime forces arrested her and her comrades. They did not say a single word to the Ba’ath regime forces although they were tortured.

She judged her executioners

During the lengthy show trial, Leyla Qasim and her comrades judged their executioners. They were sentenced to death. On May 12, 1974, Leyla Qasim and her comrades were executed by the order of Saddam Hussein. Before her execution, she said, “My execution will wake up thousands of Kurds from their sleep. I am honored and happy that my death will serve the freedom of Kurdistan.”


One day before her execution, the Ba’ath regime allowed her family to see her. “Don’t forget to bring scissors and my Kurdish local clothes,” she told her sister during the meeting with her mother and sister. Surprised by her request, her sister asked her, “What are the scissors for?” Leyla Qasim told her, “Cut a lock of my hair. Let my hair blow in the wind when Kurdistan is liberated and keep my local clothes for this day. That day, I will be the bride of Kurdistan.”


Leyla Qasim and her comrades are immortal in the Kurdish struggle for freedom struggle and are symbols of courage and resistance for every Kurd. Leyla Qasim is the first woman, who was executed in Iraq.  Many Kurdish families named their children Leyla after her. Every year the anniversary of her death is remembered by many Kurds.