It was as if a war had broken out inside the Iraqi capital. As soon as the umpire blew his final whistle at the end of the match between European football clubs, and fierce rivals, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, gunfire erupted all around Baghdad and indeed, in other cities too.
A love of football unites many Iraqis, regardless of sect or ethnicity, and the two Spanish football clubs — regarded here as the best teams in the world — are particularly popular in the country. Iraqis often celebrate happy events by shooting into the air – weddings, funerals, births and other celebrations, such as when your football team wins.
This kind of gunfire is a tradition throughout the Arab world. In fact, in Iraq it has even become something of a joke. An Iraqi satire recently showed relatives and neighbours enthusiastically firing their weapons on the occasion of a student passing a test, and a wife returning home from shopping.
At a recent wedding, a bride’s family refused to join the wedding procession until the groom’s family stopped firing their weapons.
However there are also some fairly obvious dangers to the practice.
For example, after the football game on April 23 this year there were several civilian injuries as a result of random gunfire. New Year’s celebrations can also turn dangerous due to gunfire.
In the province of Babel, the senior members of one tribe, the Shamariya, are causing headlines by trying to curtail the tradition. Tribal leader, Manea Allawi, believes the practice is a reckless one that has resulted in human costs and damage to property.
Allawi says that he first tried to talk his family members and other relatives from his tribe out of firing their guns in a celebratory way and that he hopes their example will eventually be passed on to other members of the tribe.
“It is illegal, immoral and unjustified,” Allawi told NIQASH. “It is also against the teachings of religious authorities in Iraq.”
In the past the highest Shiite Muslim religious authority in the country, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has talked about the gunfire for no good reason and he has said that it is not acceptable, due to the damages caused and the fact that locals are frightened of the weapons; he has also suggested that anybody causing damage in this way be held personally liable.
Iraqi’s law supports this statement. A far older piece of legislation, from the 1980s, it states that gunfire is illegal at private and public parties and that anybody who violates this law can be punished with jail time.
The law is clear – but as with so many other similar rules, it is hardly implemented at all.
For example, Iraq’s military says that their soldiers should abide by such a law. But in reality, the soldiers fire their weapons into the sky as much as the next gun owner, at funerals or weddings.
Allawi has told his tribe that the clan will not support anybody who accidentally kills or hurts others while shooting their weapons off in celebration. According to tribal law, that means individuals will have to pay high sums in compensation to the victims of random gunfire themselves; in the past, their family or tribe might have supported them with this but not any more. Should the injured party be a member of Allawi’s own tribe, then the amount of compensation – also known as blood money in Iraq – is double the amount normally accepted in such a situation.
The senior leader’s plan is considered acceptable and logical by many of his clan and it has worked to a certain extent. For example, at a recent wedding, a bride’s family refused to join the wedding procession until the groom’s family stopped firing their weapons.
And Allawi hopes that scenes like this will be repeated until the tradition has, if not ended, then at least become less popular.