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Role of Family

The family is the most important unit of social organization in contemporary Iraqi society. It also is a relatively cohesive institution at the center of economic activities. The family provides protection, food, shelter, income, reputation, and honor. The present-day Iraqi family is not extended in the strict sense. It is rare for three or more generations to live together in the same household. However, relatives generally remain closely tied in a web of intimate relationships. They continue to live in the same neighborhood, to intermarry, and to group together on a kinship basis. Although the family is losing ground where social change is occurring most rapidly (such as in cities), family loyalty still dominates all aspects of Iraqi life. Economic motivation and considerations of prestige and family strength all contribute to the high value Iraqis place on large families. Family members may be held responsible for the acts of every other member.

Iraqi families are patriarchal and hierarchal (with respect to sex and age). The father possesses complete authority and responsibility. He expects respect and unquestioning compliance, and shows little tolerance of dissent. Fathers generally remain aloof from the task of raising children in their early years. The Iraqi Arab family is the society in miniature: the same patriarchal and hierarchical relations and values also prevail at work and in religious, political, and social associations.

Role of Women

Iraqi society traditionally assigns women a subordinate status. The majority of women continue to occupy the private domain of the household. Wives are expected to obey and serve their husbands and to defer to them, especially in public. Supported by religious ideology and teachings, the prevailing standards of morality stress values and norms associated with traditional ideas of femininity, motherhood, and sexuality. At the heart of the role of women is the belief that a family's honor is tied to a woman's modesty and faithfulness.

Role of Men

Men are privileged in Iraqi Arab society, wielding almost all authority. Important masculine values and virtues, dating from the nomadic past, include personal bravery, a willingness to bear hardships and to come to the aid of family and friends no matter what the circumstances, and fathering children (preferably sons).

Dating and Marriage

Traditionally, Iraqi Arab marriage has been seen as a family and communal affair more than an individual one. It has been a mechanism for the reinforcement of family ties and interests. Iraqi Arabs still practice arranged marriage and endogamy (marriage within the same lineage, village, or community). Most common is the parallel cousin marriage: marrying the child of one's father's brother. Traditionally, girls have married at a substantially earlier age than boys. Great emphasis is placed on premarital chastity. Polygamy in Iraq is conditional upon approval of a judge. It is relatively simple for a husband to divorce his wife, but very difficult for a wife to divorce her husband against his will. The traditional codes governing marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance differ in Iraq according to ethnicity and religious sect.

Marriages are important events to Kurdish families. Traditionally, they are arranged. Kurds also practice endogamy. Ideally, a man will marry his father's brother's daughter, to whom he has "first rights." Marriage celebrations can range from one day to one week. Gifts are exchanged between the wedding families. The bride brings with her a dowry equal to the ceremonial bride price and the agreed-upon alimony to be collected if the marriage ends in divorce. On the seventh day of the marriage, the couple visits close relatives, receiving more presents for their new lives. If the groom does not pay the agreed-upon bride-wealth or does not support and clothe his wife according to the standards of her own family, the bride has grounds for divorce. The only other way she may obtain divorce is by repayment in full of the bride-wealth, unless otherwise stipulated in the marriage settlement. A man may divorce his wife by renouncing her three times.

Role of Children

The hierarchical structure of the Arab family requires children to obey their elders and meet their expectations. Sons are especially welcome in Arab families because they are the carriers of the family tradition, and because their economic contribution is greater than that of daughters. Sons are usually taught to be protectors of their sisters and to help the father with his duties inside and outside the house, while daughters are taught to defer to their brothers, and to help the mother to take care of household chores. Arab families also teach their children to attach tremendous importance to blood ties and bonds of loyalty. During adolescence, there traditionally is a separation of sexes. Boys have greater freedom than girls and begin to be drawn into the company of their fathers and the world of men during this time.

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