Official statistics on divorce rates in Iraq reveal the extent of social problems that undercut marriage ties, where women are often the main victims.
In 2012, Iraqi courts recorded an increase in divorce rates. The official website of the judicial council revealed that “the number of divorce cases had reached 5,380 by September.”
Some incidents of divorce go unrecorded in Iraqi courts, however, since some Iraqis opt to register their divorces with religious clerics through what are known as “Sharia” offices. Those who organize “Sharia” marriage contracts outside civil courts attest to having organized a large number of divorce papers over the past two years.
According to a cleric in the Shiite city of al-Kadhimiya in the center of Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity, divorce cases in 2012 have shot up by 40% compared to previous years.
On a tour conducted by Al-Monitor of Baghdad courts in the neighborhoods of al-Sadr, Baghdad al-Jadida (East Baghdad), al-Karada (Central Baghdad) and al-Karkh (West Baghdad), divorce brokers paid little heed to the “social reform” employee present.
Indeed, Iraqi courts appoint a marriage counselor to avoid ending marriages with regrettable divorce proceedings. Lawyers, on the other hand, prefer to go through with divorce proceedings in pursuit of fees.
According to Zahraa Obeid, a 45-year-old social researcher working in al-Karkh courts in Baghdad “married couples planning on getting divorced are deciding not to speak with social researchers...their problems are complex and most often economic in nature”.
The economic crisis from which a large number of Iraqis suffer, however, is not the only reason for divorce in Iraq.
Iraqi lawyer Hassan al-Arzaki, a retired police general in the neighborhood of al-Karada, says that he organized “done deal” divorces because the marriage had been based on tribal norms that forced the woman to accept a husband she did not want.
2012 was not the only year Iraqi courts recorded an increase in divorce cases. According to a statement published on the Iraqi Judicial Council’s website, “Divorce cases have been steadily increasing since 2004, at a time when the number of marriages far exceeded official divorce statistics, while the opposite was the case between 1995 and 2003."
Divorce statistics in Iraq are extremely worrisome, with 28,690 cases recorded in 2004, and 33,348 cases in 2005.
The number shoots up to 35,627 divorce cases in 2006 and reaches“41,560 divorces in 2007, and 44,116 in 2008. In 2009, numbers get up to 61,466 divorces.
At the time, Iraq suffered from street wars, acts of violence, and serious socio-political upheavals.
Observers and social researchers attribute these events to the divorce rate. In fact, the year 2010 witnessed a slight decrease in the number of cases, totalling 5,380 according to the Iraqi Judicial Council.
However, the relative stability referred to by the government has not prevented a renewed increase in divorce for 2011, with the number of cases settled reaching 59,515.
The high divorce rate is not exclusively attributed to the new political system in place since 2003. During ex-President Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraqi courts recorded 121,294 cases in 1995.
Divorced women in Iraq are subjected to immense social pressures stemming from a negative perception of unmarried women. They are regarded as social rejects, driven to isolation, and sexually abused through secret marriages.
Ali Abel Sadah is a writer and journalist from Baghdad working in both Iraqi and Arab media. He was the editorial manager of a number of local newspapers, and was a political and cultural reporter for over 10 years. He has published in various newspapers and magazines covering Iraqi political affairs, human rights and civil society.