Despite widespread speculation at home and abroad that Iraq is on the verge of civil war, couples from different backgrounds have been defying the theory by marriage.

 

Young men and women – as was the case before the US-led invasion three years ago - from different ethnic, religious and sectarian backgrounds still flock to the civil courts every morning for marriage contracts.

 

Sahira Abd al-Karim, a civil lawyer in Baghdad, confirmed to Aljazeera.net that Iraqis from different backgrounds are still marrying each other.

 

"Sectarianism is something shameful among Iraqis, especially the middle class," she said. "As a lawyer in the civil courts in Baghdad I have seen Sunni marrying Shia, Arab marrying a Kurd.

 

"I myself am a Sunni Arab but my brother has been married to his Shia Arab wife for more than 40 years, and their eldest son married a Turkmen girl. I really cannot see how these people [Iraqis factions] would fight each other."

 

A civil judge in Baghdad who preferred not to reveal his identity told Aljazeera.net that the rate of mixed background marriages has declined slightly, as has marriage in general.

 

Slight decline

"Definitely the number of mixed marriages has declined recently, but we have to take into consideration that marriage cases in general have fallen due to deteriorated security situation and immigration. People are leaving Iraq looking for safety," he said.

 

The judge agreed with Sahira that urban Iraqis regard sectarianism as shameful.

 

"Families of young couples usually get embarrassed when I ask them do they want the marriage to be finalised according to Sunni or Shia Islamic Sharia? They do not want to be labelled as sectarians, and you see each family encourages the other to tell the judge to finalise the marriage according to its sect."

 

"Sectarianism is something shameful among Iraqis, especially the middle class".

Sahira Ahmad,
Iraqi lawyer

Marwan Muhammad, 26, and Zainab Hussein, 25, were declared husband and wife by the civil judge in al-Karkh Civil Court in Baghdad this month.

 

Marwan, a Sunni Arab, and Zainab, a Shia Arab, fell in love shortly after they started their university studies four years ago.

 

Security fears


"Due to the current situation in Iraq, I and Zainab agreed to live in a room at my parents' house. My family promised Zainab's family to treat her like a dear daughter," Marwan said.

 

Despite their happiness, the couple were disappointed not to have been able to had celebrate their wedding properly because of the security situation.

 

"Curfew starts at eight in the evening, and that would not allow us to hold a proper wedding party," Marwan said.

 

Iraqi wedding parties usually kick off early in the evening, with a band singing until dinner time. Singing and dancing continues after dinner until late at night and sometimes until dawn, but due to ongoing partial curfew people tend to end their weddings early evening.

 

Ban Haddad, 35, a neighbour, said: "We missed the scene of dozens of nicely decorated cars touring the streets of Baghdad after midnight to celebrate a newly married couple."

 

Haddad, a Shia Arab, graduated from Baghdad University in 1991 and in 1995 she married a Sunni Arab man.

 

"Believe it or not the Sunni and Shia thing is mentioned in our house for sake of humour, you know like I joke with my husband and tell him that Sunni are not good husbands or they are stingy … Things like that just to laugh, I do not know how they introduced sectarianism to all aspects of life, the situation is awful now," she said.   

 

Tribal factors

 

Some Iraqis say the tribal factor is crucial in pushing away the danger of civil. All Arab countries are tribal societies which value the blood bond more than sect.

 

Tribal leaders dismiss the possibility of civil war between ordinary Iraqis, saying they all belong to tribes that contain Sunni and Shia clans.

 

Shaikh Muhammad Ahmed al-Mislit, a senior tribal leader, ruled out the possibility of Iraqi clans fighting each other because of different sectarian belief. Al-Mislit belongs to the Arab tribe of al-Jobur which numbers about three million Iraqis and contains Sunni and Shia clans.  

 

The security situation has
affected the rate of marriages 

"Every member in my tribe sees other members as cousins; I cannot see myself or any one of my tribe fighting his own people and family for political or sectarian beliefs," al-Mislit said.

 

"My evidence for that is both Shia and Sunni Jubor tribesmen go to the same tribal authority to judge between them, they do not go to Sunni or Shia clerics."  

 

Low-level civil war?

 

But some prominent Iraqis believe that the country has already slipped into a low-intensity civil war.

Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, recently told the BBC: "We are losing each day an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

 

Jalal Talabani, Iraq's Kurdish president also said after the Samarra bombing last month that civil war was a threat, but he has since played this down.

"The Iraqi people cannot accept a civil war,"he said on Sunday. "We are passing through a difficult period right now, but the attachment of Iraqis  to their country will prevent such a war."

 

General George Casey, commander of US military forces in Iraq, also rejected the notion that a civil war was "imminent" or "inevitable" in an interview with Fox News, arguing that a new government would  help ease sectarian tensions.