Kudos to Penguins in bondage.... for alerting me to this article in Timesonline from the UK.
Iraqis facing persecution from religious zealots, are not allowed political asylum in the USA, since Iraq is now a "democratic" country.
Young lovers court danger from puritan moral militia
From Daniel McGrory in Baghdad
The Times April 27, 2006
DATING is a dangerous game in Baghdad. Ali Ilhiam knows that holding hands with his teenage girlfriend could cost him a beating — or worse — from militant extremists.
“Boys can’t be seen walking and laughing with their girlfriends any more in the new Baghdad,” the 21-year-old university student said, glancing over his shoulder to make sure that he was not being watched. Friends of his have been dragged from their cars, imprisoned and threatened with death by self-appointed moral guardians for daring to link arms with their girlfriends in public.
An artificial lake on the banks of the Tigris, built by Saddam Hussein to cool one of his palaces, is among the few sanctuaries where Mr Ilhiam can still meet Murwa Majid, 19. Both are studying at nearby Baghdad University and skip lectures to spend a few minutes together.
They, like many of their friends, dread the approach of the summer holidays, when they will be separated, so they are planning to fail their exams so they can spend two months at college studying for resits.
“This is the only life we get,” Mr Iliam said. Gone are the days when he could go to a nightclub or a party with his girlfriend. “Baghdadis don’t go out any more after dusk. We are all prisoners now.”
Most cinemas and discos have closed, and the few restaurants popular with the younger crowd close at 8pm. Gunmen hang around former favourite haunts and check identity cards to make sure that couples are married.
Mr Iliam, a physical education student, wonders how much longer the Jadariyah Tigris park will remain a haven.
Three weeks ago a gang of militiamen driving on the main road that runs past the park spotted one of his friends while he was embracing his fiancée near the lake.
The gunmen chased the couple as they drove away and forced their vehicle off the road. The driver, a 29-year-old engineer, who would give his name only as Ahmed, was dragged from behind the wheel and pistol-whipped. His terrified partner, Wasan, 23, who is studying at the College of Science, was locked in the car and made to watch. The gunmen took the couple to a makeshift detention centre and warned them that if they were seen “misbehaving” again they would be shot. They have never returned to the lake.
In recent days two young women had battery acid thrown at their legs by Mehdi army members, who are loyal to the militant young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The victims were told that they were being punished for dressing inappropriately.
In Basra late last year a couple were ambushed while walking in the zoo. The man was shot dead and his young partner was partially blinded by the gunmen, who stripped and photographed her, saying that they would send the pictures to her family. She ran home and killed herself.
Mr Ilhiam recalled that holding hands with a girl was permissible under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but he expressed concern about the growing puritanism that is being enforced by both Shia and Sunni militias.
“This country has expired,” Murwa Majid said, nervously twisting a gold necklace that spelt out her name. “No matter what our new Prime Minister says, my generation is pessimistic. Life will not improve any time soon. This is not living.”
Ali Athra, 24, who was also in the park with her boyfriend, ran her hands through her long, black hair and said that if her usual taxi driver did not show up in the morning to take her to university she would quickly change her clothes and order another car.
“I run upstairs, tear off the jeans and top and put on the abaya (headscarf) and a long coat to my ankles,” she said.
“Girls don’t walk the streets alone any more. We used to shop, go dancing, have parties, until a few months after the downfall of Saddam, and bit by bit, every day, we feel more repressed.”