Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Marriages Blossom in New Era
"Today I am free, and I will marry the woman I love," declared 28-year-old Baghdad baker Mohammed Abdullah.
Soon came signs that the wedding had taken place: the zaghrouta – the traditional ululation of joy – sounded from the courtroom, and a shower of chocolates was tossed into the street by Abdullah’s relatives.
Abdullah is one of the many Iraqis who have got married in what officials say is a post-war wedding boom brought on by rising salaries and the end of restrictions on marriage imposed by the former regime.
Before the war, Abdullah could not get married because – like thousands of other young men – he was dodging military service.
"I didn’t lead a normal life because of the Baathists and security men chasing me," he said. To avoid capture, Abdullah used to sleep in the bakery where he worked.
Even if he had been able to get to the court without getting arrested, no judge would have certified his marriage without seeing documentation proving he had served in the military.
But today, conscription is a thing of the past, along with the need to get letters of recommendation from your local neighbourhood representative and security office.
Getting approval to marry "takes three minutes nowadays, whereas previously it lasted for months", said al-Bayaa court head Ihsan Farook.
Salih Thabet al-Azawi, who head a court in north Baghdad's Kadhemiya district, said that between April and June this year, just over 1,100 couples tied the knot in there, compared with the figure of around 200 which would have been average for the same three-month period in previous years.
According to Azawi, in past years twice as many people were divorcing as marrying. But today, some of the reasons for divorce – such as money problems or the emigration of one of the partners – have faded, and in the last three months only 48 cases have come before him.
In the old days, Iraqis found it hard to earn the kind of income that their prospective brides' families demanded in the country's inflation-ravaged economy.
Now, many people can afford to marry, largely due to a rise in earnings since the war. Civil servants in particular have benefited. Khaldoun Dhiab, 33, a chemical engineer in the public sector, makes the equivalent of 330 US dollars a month now, an 1,800 per cent improvement on the 17 dollars he earned before the war.
Iraqis were sometimes prevented from marrying their chosen partner by the regime's security regulations, or forced to divorce people regarded as undesirable.
Khaled Ayad, 32, who came to the courthouse to remarry his ex-wife, recounted the story of their divorce.
As an accountant working for Saddam Hussein’s presidential office, he should have got special permission from the security services to marry his wife, a Kurd - he himself is an Arab. When his employers found out he was married – only after he applied to the authorities to have a ration card issued for his newborn son - they forced him to get divorced.
"Now that there are no security restrictions preventing me from returning to my dear wife, I feel happy and relaxed again," he said.
Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
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