Bridging Iraq’s sectarian gap

It is the culmination of seven days of wedding festivities at the Amin household. At the entrance to the house the men sit on two lines of chairs, the family of the bride on one side, the groom’s on the other. Inside are the women, separated from the men so they can unveil themselves, dancing and singing to the accompaniment of an all-female band.
Shia Al and Sunni muslim Zeinab and Ali’s parents at the couples wedding.
Shia Al and Sunni muslim Zeinab and Ali’s parents at the couples wedding.

It is the culmination of seven days of wedding festivities at the Amin household. At the entrance to the house the men sit on two lines of chairs, the family of the bride on one side, the groom’s on the other.

Inside are the women, separated from the men so they can unveil themselves, dancing and singing to the accompaniment of an all-female band.

The groom, Ali, comes from a fairly conservative Shia background but his bride, Zeinab, is a Sunni.
“I met my wife during the peak of the sectarian violence in 2006,” he says.

“We met at university. They were difficult times, but we were able to overcome that problem.”

Ali says the wedding is more than just a happy occasion for him, his wife and their two families.

This is their way of confronting the sectarianism that has claimed the lives of so many thousands of Iraqis since the invasion.

“It is a natural thing, and we are trying to send a message to the world. It is a way to heal the wounds of Iraqi society,” he asserts.

At the beginning of October, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki unveiled a new coalition.

He was turning his back on his former allies, sectarian Shia parties backed by Iran.

He said he wanted to fight the election on behalf of all segments of Iraqi society. His grouping includes Kurds, independents and even some former Sunni insurgents.

Sheikh Ali Hatim Sulaiman is the head of one of Iraqi’s largest Sunni tribes, the Duleimi. He says he never took up arms himself, but his tribe was until a few years ago at the heart of the Sunni insurgency centred in Anbar province. “Our position is to support the resistance against the American occupation,” he said.

“I still believe we have the right to resist.” The last time Iraq held parliamentary elections in 2005, the Sunni community largely boycotted the poll.

But now Sheikh Hatim is throwing his support behind Mr Maliki. In return, he wants more power for his people
“I want to get my people into parliament, in order to change parliament. We need him as much as he needs us.”

‘Mixing again’

Ahmed is a taxi driver from Adamiya, a Sunni stronghold in northern Baghdad.

Underneath his shirt, his torso is covered in scars, shrapnel wounds he suffered when a car bomb exploded near him in 2006.

Back then, if a Shia had walked into this neighbourhood, he probably wouldn’t have made it out alive.

Similarly, if the people of this area had wandered into the neighbouring district of Kadamiya, a Shia stronghold, they probably would not have survived either. Now though, people here say that things have got much better.

The two communities have started mixing again, and they hope that the worst of the sectarian violence is now behind them.

But ask Ahmed if he would consider voting for Mr Maliki’s new coalition, and his answer is immediate and emphatic.
“No,” he says. “Absolutely not. Because when I apply for a job, they look at my birth certificate, at where I come from, and they throw my application onto the garbage heap.”

Like many here, he believes his job-prospects are virtually zero under the current Shia-dominated government, simply because he is a Sunni.

‘Fragile stability’

Dr Nabeel Saleem is a lecturer in politics at Baghdad University. He says that, when it comes to talk of moving beyond sectarianism, the people have little confidence in their leaders, across the political spectrum.

“It is very difficult for any one man to now unite all the people of Iraq, especially after these sectarian policies of the last four years.

“It is very hard to see how Mr Maliki - or anyone else - is going to bring the people together again,” he adds.
In the evenings by the banks of the Tigris in central Baghdad, people are out, strolling through the park, listening to music, enjoying a life slowly returning to some sort of normality.

But Iraq’s relative stability is extremely fragile, as the devastating blasts in Baghdad on 25 October demonstrated.

More than 150 people were killed that day, and many more injured, when two suicide bombers struck at the heart of the capital’s administrative district.

One small ray of light may be found in the fact that there was no sectarian backlash following that attack.
But the forthcoming elections will be hotly contested, as the various political factions vie for position and power.

The worry is that, when it comes to the crunch, the politicians may find that the easiest and most effective way to get the vote is to go back to playing on people’s sectarian fears.

BBC

 

Have Your SayLeave a comment