Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraq's Sunnis change names to avoid Shiite violence


Lurking in the small ads on page 10 of Al Taakhi newspaper was an announcement that Umar Salman wished henceforth to be known as Samir Salman. It was among many similar notices of submissions to the office of national identity requesting name changes.

The reason is not fashion or whim; it is because in Iraq these days your name can bring death. How dangerous a name Umar has become was revealed in April when Baghdad police discovered 14 corpses of young men, killed and dumped by the death squads. All were Sunnis shot with a single bullet to the head and left on a garbage heap.

One other thing united them in life as in death: their first names were Umar. And now other Umars are fearful.

In the same half page of small ads, Salman Aggal indicated that he wanted to change his daughter's name. She is called Aisha, also a Sunni name. Abdul Karim al-Ithawi announced his intention to change his Sunni tribal name from Ithawi into the neutral al-Barri. A Christian man announced his intention to change his son's first name, from Michael to Ali.

Behind the mundane notices is a shift in Iraqi society towards a world of concealed identities, religious affiliations and family ties.

Sunni families in Shiite areas of Baghdad that are strongholds of the Jaish al-Mahdi, the militia loyal to the firebrand cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr, have placed Shiite religious images on their walls.

Sunni cab drivers in Baghdad, fearful of police and militia checkpoints that may mean abduction, torture and death, have taken to hanging Shiite symbols in their cars or playing Shiite religious music.

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