Security Crisis Puts Paid to Baghdad Wedding Joy

Once lively, loud occasions, marriage ceremonies are now restrained, rather downbeat affairs.

Security Crisis Puts Paid to Baghdad Wedding Joy

Once lively, loud occasions, marriage ceremonies are now restrained, rather downbeat affairs.

Decorated cars, honking of horns, cries of joy and loud music were once the stuff of Baghdad’s famous wedding processions.

The families of the bride and groom felt obliged to invite as many relatives and friends as possible to the ceremony - the cost of which often exceeded a thousand dollars, a huge amount for the average Iraqi family.

But the grim security situation has put paid to these lively, colourful affairs - at least for the moment. They now tend to be much more modest, almost clandestine.

In neighbourhoods under the thumb of radical Muslim militias, more and more young couples opt for traditional Islamic weddings to avoid problems.

Other families either travel to more peaceful Iraqi provinces for the ceremony, or, if they can afford it, they get married abroad. There they have to celebrate far away from friends and most of their relatives, as only few can afford to invite a large number of guests to travel with them.

But at least the wedding party is safe, unlike in Baghdad where this special day can easily end in blood and tears.

Witnesses have reported wedding convoys coming under attack from either American troops or the Iraqi military, or getting caught in crossfire between security forces and insurgents. There have also been instances when they’ve been hit by roadside or car bombs.

Haidar Muwafaq, a 30-year-old pharmacist, got tired of waiting for better times after a one-year engagement and decided to get married abroad.

"I was hoping that the situation would improve so that I could get married, but it's hopeless, it's unsafe. So I arranged a dinner for both our families [in Baghdad] and the next day my bride and I headed to Iran for the wedding and the honeymoon,” he said.

Iraqi ex-pats who have arranged marriages with girls back home are reluctant to return in order to meet their future wives and in-laws, preferring to arrange the introduction in a neighbouring country.

For Maha Salih, 34, a civil servant from Baghdad, said her fiancée Abdullah Mohammed, 40, who works as an engineer in Malaysia, was too scared to come back to Iraq to meet her and her parents, so he phoned them up to arrange a rendezvous abroad.

"My family never would have agreed under ordinary circumstances," she said.

Those who decide to stay in Iraq for their weddings often have to come up with complex arrangements to ensure that their special day passes off without incident. For instance, Leith abdul-Khaliq, 28, from Baghdad, chose to have his engagement party in the relatively quiet southern province of Missan where his fiancé Dunya Naji lives. Later on, he invited their respective families to a dinner he arranged at his home in the capital. The couple then went off to Kurdistan for their honeymoon.

In the past, recalled Dunya, wedding ceremonies were quite important for the social prestige of a family. But these days this is less important because “now couples are obliged to celebrate away from their families and relatives”.

In those Baghdadi neighbourhoods where Muslim radicals hold sway, the safest way to get married is to have an Islamic ceremony, featuring religious songs and strictly no dancing.

"Security obliges you to follow specific rituals," said Salam Khalaf, 27, who recently got married. "We brought an Islamic band that only sings Islamic songs and plays drums."

In the past, guests used to dress up for a wedding. Women would wear elegant tight or strapless evening gowns. But for religious unions, they come in hijabs and long dresses.

In Sadr city, Kadhimiya, A'adhamiya, Shu'la, Hurriya, Islamic weddings are now the norm, which are attended by only close family.

It’s often hard for parents, accustomed to the lively ceremonies of old, to see their children subjected to so many restriction on what should be the happiest day of their lives.

Heifa Ali, 53, civil servant, is angry that when her two sons got wed they were unable to throw a party with lots of guests and music. “We all suffer in this age of abduction, murder and explosion - may God damn those behind this," she said.

Karima Malik, 25, has bitter memories of her wedding day. "We settled for a simple ceremony without any ceremony but still faced problems,” she said.

She recalls how her neighborhood, Sabia'a al-Boor, a volatile suburb of Baghdad, was put under a curfew after an attack by extremists. When her fiancé and his relatives came to pick her up for ceremony, security forces wouldn’t let them into the neighbourhood.

They eventually let them through, but they all had to stay at Malika’s house overnight because of the curfew.

"My husband and I were obliged to stay up all night sitting with our guests. It is supposed to be a special day,” sighed Malika.

Hind al-Saffar in Baghdad is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
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