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In Iraq, the Methboub family waits – and copes

The Methboub family, which the Monitor has followed since 2002, work to free a son from jail and anguish over a daughter’s soured marriage. They had little hope Sunday's election in Iraq would change their lives significantly.

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Methboub asks the same question about her oldest daughter, Fatima, who was married in January 2008 in an apparent love match to Bashar, who at the time had contracts to provide water and other goods to the Green Zone. The couple had quite a courtship, eyeing each other through a kitchen window, and even throwing vegetables to get each other’s attention.

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But problems have grown in the relationship, serious problems, and they are providing a salutary lesson for the unmarried daughters, who have constant suitors. There has been abuse, the family says, and the discovery that Bashar already has a wife, and Fatima, unbeknownst to all of them, had become his second.

“All of a sudden, Bashar stopped coming home, and did not bring groceries – to the point where there was no food in the house,” explains Methboub. “He would come for an hour and leave.”

“He is not good to her,” adds Hibba.

Daughter Zainab lives with her husband and 3-year-old across the hall from Fatima, and so is aware of the details. “Fatima loves her husband and says, ‘I don’t want to be divorced. For 60 or 70 years, I will be with him,’ ” relates Methboub.

Zainab’s husband spoke to Bashar, telling him his treatment of Fatima was not right. “What? I divorced her over the phone,” Bashar replied, according to the husband. “Why should I pay rent if I’m not living there?”

Fatima doesn’t accept divorce for social reasons, says Methboub. “But God willing, once her brother is out of prison, we will not let her stay with him. He has left her [for] a year! She is paying for rent, though it’s good – it’s within reach.

“It is another problem and sorrow on top of my head,” says Methboub. But it has also made it much easier for Methboub to turn away other men looking for marriage. Daughter Amal, who wants to be a surgeon and is also in her last year of high school, was proposed to by a basketball player.

“I said, ‘No, finish your education first,’ because of the sorrow we have with Fatima,” Methboub declares. “They [men] keep coming, even if I am not giving!”

That elicits laughter from the twin daughters, who at 18 years old have long been turning away serious marriage offers.

Reasons to laugh, despite Spartan life

And there is much else to laugh about: Youngest brother Mahmoud is now 15 years old, selling shoes on the streets for a couple dollars a day, and is saving his money – when he does not spend his earnings on sandwiches and Pepsi, and transportation there and back, or for tutoring from Hibba to ensure higher grades.

“If he does not study, the teacher kicks him on the backside,” says Hibba with a smile. “So he studies and studies.”

And he is getting stronger. “He can beat us up now!” Duha exclaims, in mock horror.

The girls then devolve into a serious and longstanding argument. Duha is accused by Hibba of knowing how to fix the satellite TV, but of not doing so out of spite.

Methboub scolds her squabbling daughters with her own Iraqi flavor of dark humor: “When you argue like that, I wish the two of you would die, and Ali would come in your place!”

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