Iraqis in love with Valentine's Day
Iraq's capital is embracing Valentine's Day this year with a huge public display of affection in what its residents say is the nation's most amorous celebration of the holiday ever.
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD — Iraq's capital is embracing Valentine's Day this year with a huge public display of affection in what its residents say is the nation's most amorous celebration of the holiday ever.
Street corners across Baghdad are blanketed with the synthetic red fur of teddy bears, while silken nighties and lip-shaped satin pillows hang in store fronts.
It's a vivid counterpoint to a place that's still a far cry from warm and fuzzy — with bombings remaining a fact of life since the withdrawal of U.S. forces two months ago.
"Valentine's Day is for everybody — not only for lovers," said Lina, a school administrator who would identify herself only by her first name. She was among the throngs browsing through an array of plush kittens, scented candles, red lamps and heart-shaped purses outside a store this weekend in the Baghdad downtown shopping district of Karradah.
After decades of war and dictator rule, and with improving security, Iraqis say they are able to relax and enjoy Valentine's this year. Others believe the recent burst of text messages, mobile phones and use of the Internet among Iraqi youth has helped foster romance like never before.
But Valentine's Day may come with its own baggage.
Conservative Muslims, from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, have strongly frowned on the holiday's growing popularity around the world as an encouragement of perceived Western decadence and premarital sex.
Last year, Iran banned cards, gifts and other tokens of the day, which tradition says is named after one of several early Christian martyrs. Saudi Arabia's feared religious police launched patrols each year to stamp out any stores displaying too much red or selling heart-shaped products this time of year.
So far, however, Iraq appears to be drifting the way of other Middle East centers such as Dubai or Beirut that stock shelves high with chocolates, flowers and other trappings of the day.
From his Karradah storefront, Abdul-Wahab Abdul-Rahaman has watched toddler-sized red teddy bears and plush hearts in high demand this year. He speculates it's because young lovers now meet and talk more frequently with the help of their mobile phones.
Mobile phones, satellite TV and the Internet were virtually banned during Saddam's regime, and the war and rampant violence after his ouster discouraged tech companies from marketing Iraq until the past few years.
Iraq remains a relatively conservative society, and only recently have many unmarried couples dared to be without a chaperone in public.
Picking out gifts for each other in Karradah, Simaa Riyadh, 27, said she believes more lovers are open with their affections. Her fiancé, Ammar Riyadh, said he feels security is good enough now to show a little tenderness.
"It's a wonderful day," Riyadh said, smiling.