BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 9, 2009 -- After the bombing of Samarra's famed Shiite Askariya shrine in February 2006, a spate of sectarian-based attacks claimed the lives of many Iraqis. The victims were mostly male, leading to a surge in the number of widows in the country.
Indeed, more than 1 million Iraqi women have become widows in the past three years, according to Samira Al Musawi, the head of the Women and Child Committee in the Iraqi parliament.
So, in 2006, Iraq's Al Ethar NGO, a nonprofit organization that provides women and their children with money and free health care, began a controversial new program to help interested widows find second husbands.
Initially, most of the women balked at the idea, worried about facing adverse responses from their communities.
But the program has seen more than 40 widow remarriages in the past three years. Mohammed Abbas, the executive director of Al Ethar, said his organization supplies interested men with photo albums and biographies of widows willing to remarry, as well as details of any children from first marriages.
In one case, Abbas said, a man specifically wanted to marry a widow with a child. "The man said he didn't have any children of his own," Abbas said, adding, "he was looking for a wife and a child."
Ayad Ayid, a 48-year-old merchant who recently married a widow with five children, said he met his wife through the Al Ethar program. "Although she has five children and I have four from my first marriage, I didn't care," he said.
He now lives in Baghdad with his new wife and all their children.
But not everyone thinks kindly of Al Ethar's program. Al Musawi said she "declared my full refusal to this idea," likening it to "showcasing and ... selling and buying women through making use of widows' economic status."
But her opposition is not entirely grounded in fact, because the monthly payroll, estimated at $90, paid by the Iraqi government to widows is usually cut off after the women remarry. Al Ethar occasionally helps the newly married couple, providing them with funds to start their new lives, although not every couple receives aid from the establishment.
Some Widows Reluctant to Marry
Some Iraqi men disagreed with Al Musawi. Fadhil, a man in his mid-30s, said, "We always hear cases of people getting married through Internet sites, so it's not a problem to have a woman's picture showcased in a photo album.
"It's better having a man looking after [a] widow instead of leaving her alone, facing hard-life circumstances in Iraq," he added.
That said, not all widows like the idea of remarrying and giving up their independence. Nuha, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, said, "I have been engaged ... many times but I refused. I have my own salary, as well as my husband's pension, which is more than enough to raise my children and give them a decent life.
"Some women, I don't blame for getting remarried, especially if they don't have any supporter or pension," Nuha said.
Some men believe that it is part of their religious duty to take care of widows and orphans. Others reason that it is cheaper to marry a widow than an unmarried woman.
In the case of unmarried women, the woman's parents often ask the man to provide a new house or a quantity of gold to his wife. Such demands are less likely to come from widows' families, they say.