Premium for mixed marriages in Baghdad
BY CHAALAN CHARIF*
08-10-2007 Radio Netherlands
The violence between Shiites and Sunnis in the Iraqi capital has decreased markedly in the past few months. But that's largely as a result of the "sectarian cleansing" in almost every district. The two population groups no longer live side by side, and that gives much less rise to violence. Mixed marriages are also occurring a lot less frequently. The Iraqi government considers this a negative development, and it wants to see more marriages between Shiites and Sunnis.
Last week there was a big party in Baghdad. More than a hundred young couples took part simultaneously in a wedding ceremony. The party was sponsored by the Vice-President of Iraq, Tariw Al-Hashimi. Each couple received a premium of $750 from the Vice-President. This amount was doubled if the bride and groom were not from the same sect.
Mixed marriages between Shiites and Sunnis were always quite normal in Iraq. The UN organisation IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) has estimated the number of mixed families in the country at 2 million, which is one third of all Iraqi families. It's a dubious estimate. The actual number is probably considerably lower. But it nevertheless illustrates that mixed marriages between different sects and population groups in Iraq are a normal phenomenon.
Especially in Baghdad, where the different population groups have lived side by side, mixed marriages are common. Often they are brought up in discussions about the chance of civil war or the breaking up of the country. Many Iraqis believe that there's no chance of a civil war considering the large number of mixed marriages.
Yet it was the capital, where the different population groups live side by side, that was the stage for violence between Shiites and Sunnis in the last couple of years. After two years, there's virtually no district in Baghdad that you can call mixed. The fact that in the past few months there have been far fewer victims of violence is principally because it's becoming more difficult for extremists on either side to make contact with each other.
Nevertheless, Vice-President Al-Hashimi believes that relations between supporters of the major streams of Islam can be improved through stimulating people to create mixed marriages.
"There's still room for hope. Nothing can work better than the formation of a mixed family," according to the Vice-President in an official declaration of his initiative for "the patriotic wedding."
"We must do everything to break down the barriers between the two groups. If a Shiite man marries a Sunni woman, and vice versa, then there comes a family which develops outside this division."
But reports from Iraqi and international organisations show that a growing number of mixed couples are splitting up. Sometimes this happens as a direct result of threats from the militias. But often, the families of the couples place them under great pressure, as illustrated by the story of May Mahmoed in the Washington Post.
The Sunni May Mahmoed had lived since her wedding, 12 years ago, with her Shiite husband in a mixed community. After the outbreak of sectarian violence last year, the district came under the control of Sunni extremists. The family received three days' notice to leave the house. They fled to another district which was under the control of a Shiite militia. The situation became intolerable, and eventually May Mahmoed went to live with her Sunni parents. Her husband fled to Egypt. Both received warnings from their families that they must divorce.
The differences and the feelings of mistrust between the two population groups are deep-rooted. That's largely the work of the politicians who claim to represent the two groups. The same politicians now want to make amends with a premium of $1500 in the hope of creating sectarian-neutral families in this divided land. But who believes that?