BAGHDAD - As statistics go, at least 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the occupation, now in its fifth year. Every one of them has left behind once loved ones to mourn the loss and to think of what might have been.
This is the land of the Arabian Nights, and of love stories that became fables far and wide. In these stories, in the traditions of which they were born, the lover thought nothing of giving up his life for a beloved. But no one thought death would come to this land under the present circumstances.
All who have died had their own love stories, if not all romantic ones. And that must be a million of them. The figure of 655,000 - of Iraqis who died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation -- came from the British medical journal Lancet based on a study in July last year. The number would have risen significantly after one of the bloodiest years of the occupation.
The deaths are not the only tragedies to have fallen upon Iraq's love stories.
"We were engaged to be married after the end of the war," Hussam Abdulla, a 28-year-old engineer from Baghdad told IPS. "We thought the war would not last more than a month, and so we planned our marriage for May 2003. But everything went wrong. I was detained for two years, and my fiancÃƒ©e's family had to flee to Egypt because her father was a senior army officer whose life was threatened first by occupation forces and later by death squads."
Abdulla's engagement never led to marriage.
And it was the lucky ones who fled the country early. Others stayed on to face death, detention, or a living hell at home. Army officers, doctors, journalists and artists came particularly to be targeted by death squads.
"I thought the man I loved simply dumped me," a 25-year-old woman, who asked to be called Arwa, told IPS. "He told me he will call me as soon as he finds a job in Jordan, but he just disappeared. His family told me they did not know where he is."
Much later, she was told he had been detained by U.S. forces near the Jordanian border. "The U.S. authorities said his name did not exist on their files. But I will wait for him, even if I have to wait all my life."
Tens of thousands of detained Iraqis have never been found on any U.S. military records. Their families still do not know whether they are dead or alive.
"I told my fiancÃƒ©e to find herself someone else for a husband," 32-year-old Khalik Obeidy, who was visiting Baghdad from Fallujah, told IPS. "I lost my job as an army officer, and my family house was blasted during the U.S. siege of Fallujah, so our marriage seems to be next to impossible.
"But also, getting married in such a situation will only mean more agony. And bringing up children is more than difficult. My fiancÃƒ©e still says things will improve, she says she will wait. She's crazy."
Stories of broken engagements and marriages are everywhere in Baghdad.
"In 2006, I sent my wife and two daughters to Jordan for work, and I was supposed to follow them after selling the car and the furniture," 40-year-old teacher Tariq Khalaf from Baghdad told IPS. "But my father died, and I had to stay here to look after the rest of the family. Now I don't know whether to bring them back to this Iraqi hell, or just stay separated."
Jassim Alwan, who recently made the dangerous trip to Baghdad from Samarra, 90km north of the capital city, tells the story of 23-year-old Abdullah that everyone in Samarra seems to know.
"He has a scruffy beard, and he keeps wandering the streets," Alwan told IPS. "Abdullah is now better known than the mayor of the city. He was a wonderful guy. And then his bride was shot by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint. The poor guy could not stand the shock."
This is the kind of love story Iraqis tell nowadays. "The country of the Arabian Nights and of wonderful poetry is no longer good for love," Maki al-Nazzal, political analyst and poet, told IPS. "All Iraqi poetry under occupation is now about death and separation."
Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region.
© 2008 Inter Press Service