Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Police Don't Make Marriage Material

Women are shunning suitors with high-risk jobs in the security forces.
By Sahar al-Haideri

Solaf Naji and her fiancé fell in love when they were both university students, and the preparations for their wedding party are now in place. But since her prospective husband joined the Iraqi police force, Naji has been having second thoughts.

“I cannot deny my strong love toward him, but I really don’t like to think even for a moment that I will be a widow or have orphans in the future,” she says. “I don’t want to worry every day, waiting to hear the bullets and see them hitting his body.”

Naji is not alone in her dilemma – there are now many women saying they would not marry a police officer, for fear of finding themselves widowed and their future children fatherless.

High unemployment has left thousands of men, from the uneducated to college graduates, with few options but to join the police or the army. But it’s one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq, as insurgents have killed hundreds of members and prospective recruits.

Sajidah Sabri, a 27-year-old teacher, told IWPR that the man who asked for her hand seemed to have it all. He came from a rich family, had a college degree and owned a car. And he was quite handsome. “But I turned him down just because he is joining the police forces,” she said. “Policemen are always targeted.”

When Abeer Hadi became engaged, her fiancé Ayad Salih was working as a carpenter in his father’s factory. Hadi, a 20-year-old university student, said she agreed to the proposal because of Salih’s good reputation and strong ethics.

But then, by chance, Hadi saw Salih working at his other job - patrolling the streets as a policeman. When she asked him why he had hidden this from her, Salih told her frankly, “I was afraid you’d reject me if you knew I was a policeman.”

Women rejecting policemen and soldiers might be a minor issue in other countries, university lecturer Haitham Hassan told IWPR. “But for a community like ours, with increasing violence targeting those groups of security people, and some believing those men are traitors, the issue is different,” Hassan said.

The seriousness of the problem varies across the country. In the Kurdish regions and some areas of the south, many women are proud to marry police and soldiers. And mothers there are often happy with these unions, believing such men will earn good salaries and will be able to protect their new families.

But across wide swathes of the country, especially in areas where there are frequent attacks against security forces such as Baghdad, Mosul and the Sunni heartlands of Anbar province, marrying a policeman or soldier is seen as an invitation for heartache and death.

In July, a 23-year-old bride was killed and the Iraqi army captain she had just married was wounded after gunmen attacked their vehicle.

“When the terrorist groups kills a policeman, they don’t wait to see if the policeman is alone or with his wife or family members,” said Ayad Nasrullah, 58, a retired teacher. He went on to tell IWPR that he wouldn’t let any of his five daughters marry a policeman for fear they might be hit by a bullet intended for the husband.

Sarab Ibrahim’s husband died when a pickup truck packed with explosives hidden under watermelons pulled up just after dawn outside the police station where he worked. The explosion knocked down the whole building. Ibrahim’s husband, trapped under a chunk of collapsed ceiling, lingered on as workers brought in machinery to dig people out – but they were too late to save him.

“What was his guilt?” said the 28-year-old widowed teacher, crying. “His intention was to protect the country when he became a policeman. He wasn’t a traitor or a spy, and he didn’t take money from the Americans.

“Who will adopt these three children? And this infant who’s just two months old – what is his guilt, that he should grow up without a father?”

Ilham Jabir, a 30-year old housekeeper, said she accepted the proposal of policeman Mofaq Ghalib because he earns a good salary. None of the men who proposed to her in the past made a decent living.

She is trying to make the best of the situation, but she’s not comfortable with his job. She told Mofaq he should wear a mask to cover his face while he’s working.

“It’s common now for policemen to disguise their faces in various ways so only their eyes appear while they’re patrolling the streets,” Jabir said. “But inside the police station, the issue is different. It is forbidden for them to disguise themselves in front of their commanders because it’s considered cowardly.”

Khalid Abdul Kareen, 33, a policeman in Mosul, has not found a woman as understanding as this. He has asked three to marry him, he told IWPR, and all of them refused. One said she was rejecting him because he was a policeman, and he thinks the other two had the same reasons although they wouldn’t say.

Ibrahim al-Ayash, 27, is a police officer who believes it is selfish for anyone in his line of work to marry. “I will never get engaged or married unless I quit this job,” he said. “We’re the first to be sacrificed because most of the explosions target us. I don’t want to be engaged to an innocent girl who could be killed along with me, or widowed.

“I’ll wait until the situation gets better, or until I get back to my original job. Then I’ll think about marriage.”

Ameerah Ismael is also waiting for the situation to improve. Right now, she says, it seems she’ll never get married.

A translator working with the American forces asked her to marry him, but she refused since she knew he might be targeted. A week later, she heard he had been beheaded by insurgents.

A few months later, Ismael thought she had found happiness when she became engaged to a merchant. But now he too is gone - killed by a gang of thieves who stole his Mercedes.

She has since become engaged to a policeman, but there will be no marriage. “I will say no a thousand times, because I know that he too will be killed one day.”

Sahar al-Haideri is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.

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