Roba al-Asaly, fingering the sliver of gold on her necklace, explains that it reminds her of a place "that's not there anymore".

They are seen on the streets and on television. Anchorwomen wear them while reading the news on Al-Iraqiya and Al-Sharqiya, Iraqi TV stations that are secular and more tolerant of women's jewellery.

"I hold on to it with my hand as if I'm holding on to the country I once knew," said al-Asaly, a 26-year-old Shia Muslim accountant.

"A place where people were not identified by their sect, a place where bombs didn't go off every other minute."

Fear

The map necklace pendants, in gold or silver, were on sale in Baghdad even before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but gained popularity in the months after the US-led invasion.

"I hold on to it with my hand as if I'm holding on to the country I once knew"

Roba al-Asaly,
an Iraqi accountant

Now, as sectarian violence intensifies, jeweller Rafaa Ali says his shop in central Baghdad makes about 3,000 a week and can barely meet demand.

"It's like the more abnormal the situation becomes, the more demand increases," Ali said.

With the fear increasing that the country may be sliding towards division, these necklaces may become collectors' items. 

Asmaa Hassan Ali, a Sunni 24-year-old graduate of Baghdad University, said: "Who knows how long Iraq will remain looking like this? 

"Frankly, it's a pretty piece of jewellery," she said. "It's also my way of showing how I love my country the way it is and I want it to stay like that: Undivided."

Basma al-Khateeb, who used to run the Iraqi operation of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, said: "It's the threat that everyone senses is coming - tearing the land and people of Iraq apart."

She always wears her map necklace, and talking about it sets her off on a long discussion of what is wrong with Iraq and its newly elected leaders, and her conviction that wherever there is conflict, women are the natural victims, "trying hard to secure their family's land".

The necklaces cost the equivalent of $15 in silver, and $100 in gold.

Tribute and protest

Many women started wearing the map pendants in tribute to Atwar Bahjat's memory after the 30-year-old correspondent for Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya was killed, along with her cameraman and technician on February 22, while reporting on the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra.

Bahjat, a Sunni Muslim, wore the pendant on air.

For Santa Michael, a correspondent for Ashour, the Christian TV broadcaster, wearing the map is her way of making a political protest.

"Officials now speak in the name of their sects, not in the name of the country," she said.

"Whenever I say my name and people say, 'Oh, you must be Christian', I show my pendant and say: 'I'm Iraqi'."

Michael says when people see her necklace they give her a thumbs-up and say "afiya", which loosely translates as "bravo".