- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

BAGHDAD — Women in strapless dresses and men in tuxedos were twirling to Kurdish folk music at a wedding party while their children clapped their hands in excitement, when a blast rattled the hall’s windows and the electricity flickered and died.

But the partygoers were not deterred. ?Don’t they have a generator?? guests called, urging the drummer to keep playing.

Baghdad residents have begun to insist on returning to good times — at least sometimes — in this edgy city where daily bloodshed has killed hundreds of people in the last month and made fear and stress part of the daily diet.

Three weddings parties on one day — one Christian, another Sunni and the third Shi’ite — demonstrated the growing need for occasional normalcy amid the violence.

?I might die from one of those random rockets, which might fall on my head while I am lying in bed,? said the bridegroom’s mother, Selma Munther, 49, a Christian Kurd.

?We should go on and continue our lives, despite all we are going through.?

The bride, Zena Yousef, and bridegroom Yousef Jajjo arrived at Marhabah Hall, a private wedding hall in eastern Baghdad, arm in arm after their wedding in a church.

?I am very happy. Words are not helping me,? said the bride, holding a bouquet of white roses.

Women came to the hall covered in long coats, but soon set them aside to show off party wear, including strapless dresses. Many had gotten their hair done and wore makeup and perfume.

Some men seemed astounded, staring as though trying to fill up their eyes with these uncommon sights.

Iraqi women cannot wear such dresses in public. In several cities, Islamic militants have publicly flogged and threatened unveiled women. Militants have accused them of being infidels and aligning themselves with the despised secularized culture of the United States.

Outside the hall, two security guards stood with machine guns.

The hall’s manager, Bassam Manuel, said his parties are not what they used to be in Saddam Hussein’s era, when the streets were more secure.

?Before the war, the parties used to start at 9 in the evening and end at 2 in the morning,? Mr. Manuel said. ?Now the parties start at 3 in the afternoon and end at 8. Alcoholic drinks are forbidden — we don’t want any trouble.?

At another wedding reception held at the Al-Ilwiyah Social Club in downtown Baghdad, the celebration went on as revelers ignored two explosions nearby.

?I consider all these parties a divine sign that we will return to a prosperous Iraq,? said the bridegroom, Zaid Falih, 26, a Sunni Muslim banker who got married in court the day before.

Mr. Falih’s mother, Iman Kammona, 50, hovered on the verge of tears as she watched her son stroll down the club’s red carpet, holding his bride’s hand and whispering words that made her smile bashfully.

In eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, there were no guards when Ghassan Abdul Salam held his wedding party at his home as a way to save money.

Mr. Abdul Salam, a 38-year-old unemployed Shi’ite Muslim, had long dreamed of hiring Fouad Salem, a popular singer, to perform at his wedding party.

In the end, not only a lack of money prevented that. Followers of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who control the area, forbid music in the district. They believe singing is the voice of Satan.

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