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|Topic: Interfaith marriages in Iraq May Heal Dif|
Joined: 26 January 2005
Location: United States
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| Topic: Interfaith marriages in Iraq May Heal Dif
Posted: 09 March 2006 at 6:33am
Love in a Time of Madness
A Sunni and a Shiite fall in love in Iraq. They get married, have kids. Then Muslim extremists start a religious bloodbath. What should a mixed family do?
BY Babak Dehghanpisheh, Rod Nordland and Michael Hastings
March 13, 2006 issue - The two Iraqi teachers met as students at the University of Baghdad. They flirted between classes and hid the romance from friends and family. The furtive nature of their courting was partly because Mahir Murad, 26, is a Sunni man, and Hind al Yasseri, 25, is a Shia woman. "There was a love story between us," says Murad, wistfully. In three years of courtship, they had only one serious argument—about wodhu, the ritual cleansing before prayer, which their sects perform differently. The issue was whether to wash the soles of the feet with water, or merely wipe them. It erupted in a furious row, but then the couple caught themselves and broke up laughing—as they do now when Yasseri recalls that moment. "We agreed that we should never discuss such minor differences. We both are Muslims who believe in the same Qur'an and the same Prophet."
They married three years ago, in the heady days of the new Iraq, and until the past few weeks they might have said they lived happily ever after. Then terrorists, most likely from Al Qaeda, destroyed the Shiites' Askariya Mosque in Samarra, and Shia militants responded by attacking dozens of Sunni mosques, including two in the local neighborhood of Adhamiya. Militiamen from the Shia Mahdi Army even occupied the nearby Al-Nida Mosque. "We had no other choice but to protect ourselves," says Murad.
He now goes out at night to patrol the neighborhood with other Sunni men toting AK-47s, and he keeps a heavy machine gun at home. His wife stays inside with their 2-year-old daughter and other relatives. Both husband and wife blame extremists for fanning sectarian violence, but it's clear the tension troubles them. "I could say that maybe if I met my wife now, I would not marry her," says Murad.
As Iraq tilts toward a sectarian war, such strains are playing out in homes all over the country. Many of the differences between Sunnis and Shia are small enough to dismiss: how they wash their feet or fold their hands in prayer, and which religious figures they most revere. Despite years of discrimination against the Shia during Saddam's era, mixed marriages between the country's major groups, including the Kurds, have been very common. There are no official statistics, but prominent sociology professor Ihsan al Hassan, who has studied the subject, estimates that of Iraq's 6.5 million married couples, 2 million are Sunni-Shia unions.
Only the most extreme Sunnis espouse a philosophy of hatred toward the Shiites. But these include Al Qaeda in Iraq—and its leader, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. His stated plan is to "drag the Shia into the arena of sectarian war" in the hope of provoking an all-out conflagration. Even mainstream Sunni leaders remain deeply suspicious of the country's majority Shia leaders and their dominance of Iraq's security forces.
Both sects have turned to militias for self-protection, and also for revenge. Murdered Sunni and Shia civilians have been dumped into one another's neighborhoods. In the 10 days after the Samarra bombing, insurgents and thugs killed 500 civilians, according to government estimates. In some neighborhoods, they drove minorities away from their homes—the apparent beginning of an ethnic-cleansing process that Iraqis call tahjir, forced emigration. So far the numbers are relatively small, given the violence in Iraq even before the Samarra bombing. But it's very worrisome. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the U.S. deputy chief of operations, said last week that "no one believes the crisis is over. We still got a thinking enemy out there who wants to create trouble."
Omar al Qudsi could be the target of any backlash. He is a Sunni who lives in the troubled Shia neighborhood of Shula with his Shia wife, whose name he asked not be used. When he came home from a business trip last week, he just missed the men in black with AK-47s who came knocking on his door looking for Sunnis. Already there were bodies of Sunnis dumped into a field nearby. Those murders followed a suicide bomb attack that killed 15 Shia civilians. He doesn't think the militiamen were locals. "Whoever is doing such activities are not even extremists; they're mercenaries trying to create unrest and crisis between Shiites and Sunnis."
Al Qudsi and his wife already have had a rocky time over their sectarian differences. When their four children became old enough to go to mosque, his wife wanted them to follow Shia rituals. "We argued about it for months, and finally I said it was not debatable; this is an issue I would not compromise on even if it meant divorce," says al Qudsi. His wife went home to her parents in Karbala, and for three months the couple didn't speak, until a Shia cleric advised her to obey her husband so long as he was a good Muslim. She returned. "Now we understand each other and we love each other," al Qudsi told NEWSWEEK. But since the recent violence erupted, he has forbidden his wife from speaking to journalists.
Al Qudsi may be worried about opening old wounds, or he may just be feeling protective: many Iraqis in mixed marriages refuse to talk to journalists at all these days. He worries about what might happen to his country. "There might be civil war, if there is enough ignorance among Iraqi society and if political and religious leaders direct people badly." This is not something he discusses with his wife. "At home we don't even watch the news, we just watch the cartoon channel," he says.
The family of Hussein Hameed had a different solution to being a mixed family. They lived in a predominantly Shia neighborhood, the huge slum of Sadr City. The husband, Hussein, is a Sunni. When Mahdi Army militants spotted him and came to know where he lived, the family moved. They didn't reveal his religious affiliation to anyone in the new neighborhood. "We were afraid my husband would be attacked because the people knew he is Sunni," says his wife, Um Ali. Hussein and his wife do not discuss religious differences. "Any sectarian debate or act is not allowed in our family," he says.
The couple agreed to let their two teenage sons choose which sect to follow. Ali, 15, chose Shiism, and Mohammed, 13, opted for the Sunni way. "I didn't put any kind of pressure," says Hussein. But the family is keenly aware that broad-mindedness is no protection against chaos. "We are afraid there will be a civil war," says Um Ali. "Only the innocents will be the victims of it. Political and religious leaders will be safe and far from its effects."
Manal Omar, who since 2003 has worked in Iraq as a women's rights activist, sees sectarianism as a new phenomenon. "Mixed families played a crucial role in preventing civil war," she says. "Iraqis, especially in Baghdad, were very proud of the mix in their communities and the fact that Sunnis, Shias and Kurds [inter-] married so frequently. Now the barrier has significantly eroded and the wheels for the civil war have already begun to turn." She has experienced that personally, after marrying an Iraqi Shia last year. Some of her Sunni relatives boycotted the wedding, and a Sunni friend of 20 years abruptly stopped speaking to her. Her husband's brother was killed after being caught in the crossfire of a sectarian tribal dispute, increasing tensions between their families. "The sad reality is that most of us still don't believe we have seen the worst yet," she says.
The scariest factor is the rise of militias, particularly evident in the two weeks since the bombing of the Askariya Mosque. All the main political parties have activated their armed groups, and neighborhood outfits have been arming themselves. Insurgents keep stoking the hatred. And moderate Sunnis complain that the Shia-dominated military and police have stood by whenever Shia militias have rampaged in their neighborhoods. Even some Shiites are chagrined. "When we arrest people at the checkpoint, the [Shia] militias from the party come, and say 'Release them'," says Capt. Mahmoud al-Ebady, a Shiite who directs the 21 checkpoints on roads leading into the capital. "They are well connected with the Ministry of Interior and sometimes the minister himself, and usually we have to let them go." A checkpoint commander, Maj. Ammar Zengara, summed up the country's three biggest problems: "Militias, militias, militias. Everyone has one."
Compounding such problems is the continued inability of Iraqi officials to agree, nearly three months after elections, on the formation of a national unity government. Both Kurds and Sunnis have balked at choosing Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister again, after he formed a coalition with the radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Yet the prolonged delays in getting agreement have left a dangerous vacuum. "They must lead and compromise with each other to bring the people of Iraq together and to save this country," says U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Many Iraqis remain confident that moderate voices will prevail, in part because the society is so mixed. "It will be very difficult for a civil war to happen," says Major Zengara, who supervises a major checkpoint on the Baghdad-Taji highway, near one of the country's many ethnic fault lines. "I'm a Kurd married to a Shiite. I'm not going to kill my wife and her relatives." But someone else might. If Iraqis are to avoid an all-out war, the love that binds them will have to prove stronger than the blood that divides them.
Al-Hamdulillah (From a Married Muslimah) La Howla Wa La Quwata Illa BiLLah - There is no Effort or Power except with Allah's Will.
Joined: 15 October 2005
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|Posted: 09 March 2006 at 8:13am|
Then terrorists, most likely from Al Qaeda, destroyed the Shiites' Askariya Mosque in Samarra, and Shia militants responded by attacking dozens of Sunni mosques, including two in the local neighborhood of Adhamiya.
No muslim is stupid enough to attack a mosque, CIA is doing this to create a civil war in Iraq.
Ever heard of Operation Northwood?, Search on the net about it.
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