The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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2 weddings & an angry army

Baghdad, Nov. 1: Two American soldiers in Baghdad face charges of dereliction of duty after they converted to Islam and married Iraqi women in defiance of orders.

In the capital’s summer heat Serjeant Sean Blackwell and Corporal Brett Dagen fell for two Iraqi translators. But the romances that began when the Americans met the women in the hotel the soldiers were guarding are already in deep water.

The women are now in hiding after receiving death threats from those who consider them to be, quite literally, sleeping with the enemy, while Serjeant Blackwell, 27, and Corporal Dagen, 37, are awaiting possible trial. The men got married while supposedly on foot patrol in August, conducting a hasty ceremony in full combat gear, M16 rifles to hand. They have been confined to base while the incident is under investigation.

A spokesman for the 1st Armoured Division said: “They disobeyed a direct order from their commanders not to get married. They also neglected their duty while on patrol. They’re in pretty serious trouble.” The plight of the women is no less grave. Joanne, 26, and her best friend, Ahda, 25, have been in hiding since the weddings, fearful that they will be targeted as collaborators. The women have not seen their husbands since the day they tied the knot. “The women will be turned away at the gate — just like any Iraqi national who tries to get in,” an American military officer said at the base where the men are confined.

“They can communicate via letter or e-mail.” There is little prospect that they will meet again before the soldiers’ deployment comes to an end in eight months’ time.

All the women have to console them are photographs of their wedding day and an Iraqi marriage certificate which, in accordance with Islamic practice, shows a payment of $1,000 (£588) by the grooms and a pledge of $10,000 compensation for the brides in case of divorce. There was, though, some sympathy for them on the streets of Baghdad yesterday. “It’s a beautiful idea,” said 30-year-old Zena Ambouri, a civil engineer. “Personally I don’t like the look of American soldiers. But why not' As long as the wedding followed Muslim law.”

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