Salima can still remember how one night she was dragged out of her home by force, screaming and crying. She was taken to her new "husband." Her marriage was neither for love nor even an arranged one; she was married off to settle a tribal feud in what is known as the Fasliya marriage in Iraq. It derives from the Arabic word for "arbitration".
Her brother Ali had killed a man from another tribe. Fighting between the two tribes ensued and lasted nearly a year. After the intervention of other tribes, they the two sides were persuaded to end the fighting. The verdict was for Ali's tribe to pay five thousand dollars in addition to compensating the other tribe with five "tributes", including Salima and four other women.
"I tried to commit suicide before my wedding, but all my attempts failed," a tearful Salima tells Raseef22.
"I left my family's home when I was 18. I am now 50. I never saw my relatives again until they died."
Under the terms of the tribal arbitration marriage, she was allowed to visit her family only if she gave birth to four children. She did not bear any.
"I married the brother of the man my brother killed, and I lived with his family. My life became a living hell because they looked down at me, as if it were me who had killed their son. They treated me as a servant, they beat me up and humiliated me," she adds.
"If my parents had been honorable, they would’ve fought for me. They wouldn’t have accepted to give me as compensation in order to keep my brother free."
A tribal comeback
In the 1950s, the Iraqi government issued a law criminalizing the Fasliya marriage. But after the US occupation and the lawlessness that followed, people fell back to the resurgent tribes to solve their problems. Fasliya staged a comeback not long after.
"The Iraqi Personal Status Law of 1959, on forced marriage gives out a punishment of 3 to 10 years in prison," legal expert Ali Jaber al-Tamimi told Raseef22.
But the law is rarely enforced due to the clout of the tribes and the weakness of the central government. Forced marriages are also more common in poor areas, Tamimi adds.
Fasliya marriage is common in the southern provinces. Recently, 50 girls were offered as tributes in villages north of Al-Basra province in Southern Iraq, after clashes between two tribes erupted there.
"Fasliya marriage is an ancient practice, a type of legitimate captivity," Sheikh Faisal al-Kanani, Iraqi cleric, told Raseef22.
He explains that Fasliya marriage is both against Islam and the law. But tribal laws, particularly in the southern provinces, allow it.
Furthermore, he says, some tribes consider divorced or widowed women "half-women". When the agreement is to offer three women, "six women could be offered as tribute if they are widowed or divorced."
A form of slavery
A while ago, a group of women demonstrated in Al-Mutanabbi Street in central Baghdad denouncing Fasliya marriage and calling on the Iraqi state to put an end to the practice.
Feminist activist Safad Abdul Aziz tells Raseef22 "Fasliya marriage is common in rural areas because the tribal system prevails there. The majority of women involved are minors."
The arbitration marriage is not only used in lieu of blood money, she explains. "The status of a Fasliya woman is similar to that of a slave," a kind of property to be used in transactions.
"The girls are distributed among the men of the tribe who wish to marry, men who were often affected by conflict or who have lost a brother or a son or a cousin," the activist continues.
She also points out that the tribal law prohibits the Fasliya wives from visiting family or exercising any rights because this is seen as complicity.
According to Safad, there have been nearly 3,000 cases in the past decade alone.
"Each Fasliya woman is seen as worth around 500 thousand dinars (400 USD). This means if the verdict is two million dinars (1,600 USD) four women must be provided.”