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February 15, 2009

Time Enough for Love

Now that the violence has largely abated in Iraq, the Iraqis are finding the time for more pleasurable pursuits:

Romance is in the air in Baghdad as war-weary Iraqis celebrate Valentine's Day after a sharp drop in violence, allowing lovers to cautiously hold hands in parks and to buy gifts for their sweethearts.

Public courtship and more daring clothing for women are increasing after years of growing intolerance, perhaps signaling the Islamic dogma and conservatism that accompanied Iraq's slide into sectarian slaughter may be losing their grip.

"You cannot imagine how happy I am today," said Usama Abdul-Wahab Khatab, a recent university graduate nestled beside his girlfriend at a riverside Baghdad park.

A year earlier, the park shook to the sounds of artillery fire that rained on the U.S. diplomatic and military Green Zone complex across the river, launched by religious militias whose reign also kept unmarried men and women apart.

Although Iraq is predominantly Muslim, celebration of an originally Western day for lovers became popular after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

But many Iraqis also fled the violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion.

When Khatab went to Syria several years ago, he left behind not just his studies and friends, but Nada Issam, the soft-spoken woman who now sits beside him with manicured nails and a delicate sequined headscarf.

Khatab returned a year ago and the couple has been venturing out to places where they can spend time alone -- in green areas by the Tigris or along the shores of a nearby a lake.

Even there they must fend off or bribe police who hassle them for being too close or for holding hands.

Like other Iraqis, they are caught between a desire for greater freedom and romantic expression, and a conservative Islamic culture brought to the fore in six years of war.

When religious militias and insurgents controlled swathes of Baghdad, men found with women before marriage were whipped, and the woman taken to her parents, Abbas Jawad said.

"My son is spending Valentine's Day with his girlfriend. He's 16. I would never have allowed that before," he said.

Technology out of reach or not yet in existence under Saddam has enabled many Iraqis to discreetly widen their social circles or flirt. Bluetooth radio signals on most modern phones allow people to subtly send messages to strangers sitting nearby.


Posted by Cassandra at February 15, 2009 07:46 AM

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They say that love will find a way.

Leave us hope that "they" are correct...

Posted by: camojack at February 16, 2009 01:30 AM