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Iraqis Change Names to Survive Sectarian Hell

IslamOnline.net

BAGHDAD, April 13, 2006 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) ľ With about 60,000 forced to flee their homes under the yoke of sectarian violence, many Iraqis line up at a state registry believing that name changing is the best protection.

"I changed my name to Abdullah because it is a neutral name. It could be Sunni or Shiite," Omar Sami, an Arab Sunni university student, told Reuters on Thursday, April 13.

Names, many of which can clearly identify which sect an Iraqi is from, have become a matter of life or death in the violence-marred country.

Bombings at mosques, hit squads and kidnappings have forced some people to apply legally for a new identity, a painful move in a country consumed by sectarian passions.

"My life is more precious than my name," said Sami.

Iraq has been ravaged by sectarian violence since the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, on February 22.

In the following days, more than 450 civilians, mostly Sunnis, were killed and 81 Sunni mosques targeted, including eight completely destroyed, in reprisal attacks.

Ever since, gun sales have been booming in the country with more Iraqis buying, carrying and stockpiling weapons.

Minefields

In Baghdad, both Shiites and Sunnis live side by side and people are often challenged at checkpoints or randomly by armed men.

Shiites named Ali become Omar and Sunnis named Osman introduce themselves as Hussein, hoping to survive in densely populated mixed districts where victims of sectarian violence are killed on the streets every week.

Ayman al-Azzawi, an Arab Sunni taxi driver queuing up at the registry, said driving customers through Shiite or Sunni areas was like crossing communal minefields.

Erasing his identity was the only option.

"I'm here to try to change my surname or even to omit it completely from my civil status card," he said.

"I live in Baghdad al-Jadeeda, where many were killed for just being Sunnis or Shiites."

The last names of Iraqis are tribal. So anyone who wants a new name must first get permission from a new tribe and then go through the registry office, a small room overflowing with files.

Fatal Names

Many Shiites are also reluctantly changing names.

"It's really hard to change my name but I have a family to raise and look after," said Hassan al-Mosawi, the Shiite owner of an appliance shop.

"I will omit my surname from my ID in case I can't change my name," he added.

Abu Ali al-Maliki, a 52-year-old Shiite, lives in Dora, a predominantly Sunni Baghdad district.

"I have been advised to change my sons names from Ali, Hassan, and Fatima to Sunni names," he said.

"Many Shiite and Sunnis were killed in cold blood just because of their sect.

"I want to live in peace and don't want my children to die just because of their names."

Iraqis say changing names was all but impossible under former President Saddam Hussein.

These days it's much easier. The process of registering a new name, which is then passed along to passport offices and the traffic department, takes about a month.

"Forty percent of the people who come here change their names for sectarian reasons," said the registry clerk, who declined to give his name.

Displaced

A government official said Thursday that the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes to escape sectarian violence has doubled in less than a month, reflecting a sharp worsening of the security situation across the country.

"Terrorism is still targeting Iraqis all over the country and this is the main cause behind the doubling in the number of displaced families," said Sattar Nawrouz, spokesman for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

He estimated that about 11,000 families, or roughly 60,000 people, have now been forced from their homes, compared with just over 30,000 in late March.

"The number of displaced families is rising and we expect more families will flee their houses," Nawrouz said.

About 3,600 families have moved to Baghdad -- ironically, the most dangerous province in the country -- to stay with friends or relatives or in camps or squat in deserted buildings.

More than 5,000 fled to southern provinces and almost 2,500 to the north or west.

The sectarian bloodshed has prompted a redrawing of some neighborhoods, with minorities moving out and going to places where they are part of the majority community.


:: Article nr. 22552 sent on 14-apr-2006 03:09 ECT

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Link: www.islamonline.net/English/News/2006-04/13/article05.shtml



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