Iraqis Change Their Names

As it appears more and more everyday that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war (currently labeled as a ‘sectarian conflict’) some Iraqis from both sects are finding a ‘solution’ in an attempt to make it easier to survive: change your name to something nuetral. Something that doesn’s say Sunni or Shi’i.

With about 60,000 forced to flee their homes under the yoke of sectarian violence, many Iraqis line up at a state registry believing that name changing is the best protection.

“I changed my name to Abdullah because it is a neutral name. It could be Sunni or Shiite,” Omar Sami, an Arab Sunni university student, told Reuters on Thursday, April 13.

Names, many of which can clearly identify which sect an Iraqi is from, have become a matter of life or death in the violence-marred country. Bombings at mosques, hit squads and kidnappings have forced some people to apply legally for a new identity, a painful move in a country consumed by sectarian passions.

“My life is more precious than my name,” said Sami.

…In Baghdad, both Shiites and Sunnis live side by side and people are often challenged at checkpoints or randomly by armed men.

Shiites named Ali become Omar and Sunnis named Osman introduce themselves as Hussein, hoping to survive in densely populated mixed districts where victims of sectarian violence are killed on the streets every week.

…Many Shiites are also reluctantly changing names.

“It’s really hard to change my name but I have a family to raise and look after,” said Hassan al-Mosawi, the Shiite owner of an appliance shop.

“I will omit my surname from my ID in case I can’t change my name,” he added.

Abu Ali al-Maliki, a 52-year-old Shiite, lives in Dora, a predominantly Sunni Baghdad district.

“I have been advised to change my sons names from Ali, Hassan, and Fatima to Sunni names,” he said.

“Many Shiite and Sunnis were killed in cold blood just because of their sect.

“I want to live in peace and don’t want my children to die just because of their names.” [source]

I don’t know about the names. I’ve actually never heard that any of these names was exclusive to a certain sect. Also it seems that mosques and funerals seem to be the main targets so I can’t help but wonder if these too will change in some way.

This story reminded me of Proctor’s angry speech in The Crucible:

Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name!


  • The ID-execution is not new; it has started during the civil war in Lebanon, they used to have road blocks and check the ID’s of the passengers and shoot them accordingly. The worst wars are those bsed on racist bases.

    I’ve been told by a friend not to consider going to Iraq for the time being, for that my name is Omar, therefore, its’ too Sunni! by the way Nas, the name ‘Omar’ is Sunni because Shiites curse the Great Omar bin Al Khattab and consider him ‘Kafir’ and believe that he changed the words of Quran! this is why you will never find a Shiie whose name is Omar.

    I believe it’s disgusting how we are (as Jordanian Muslims) forced to consider this ugly discrimination after living hundreds of years with out even knowing that it exist. I heard that in Jordan they are building a ‘Hussayneyya’, which can be considered as a shiite mosque, for the Iraqi shiite new comers! it means that after all of these years, before you enter a mosque in Amman you must check out what type it is!

    Among the Islamic history thousands of people suffered from the Sunni-Shiie conflict and we never gained any benifits, I used to believe that we in Jordan and Palestine are the luckiest muslims not to have that conflict, but now I guess the heat of the fire will affect us.

  • This whole issue of sunni-shiite division is like a Pandora’s box which opened all the forces of evil. I am a secular person and cannot see why sunni and shiites hate each other this way. Of course it is rooted in religious fundamentalism. Once you are a fundamental you do not respect the right of other people. I have a relative who believes that Hassan Nasrallah is Kafir and Sharon is more respectful because he is from “Ashab al-kitab” people of the book and I think this guy needs a shrink!

Your Two Piasters: