BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has seen a surge in lavish weddings during what has been the country's most festive and peaceful Muslim holiday in years, with party goers shrugging off security worries and dancing late into the night.
Some 630 couples married at Baghdad's six fanciest hotels during Eid al-Fitr, the week-long holiday after the holy month of Ramadan, the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said, about the same as the total number wed at such hotels in July and August.
The Eid celebration marked an end to the quietest Ramadan in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 plunged the country into more than six years of insurgency and bloodshed.
Weddings were a much more somber affair during the dark days of sectarian strife, when people lived in fear of suicide bombers or Islamist extremists who considered the music that typically accompanies wedding processions forbidden, or 'haram'.
The ministry was unable to give precise figures for weddings in previous years, but a spokesman said that there had been a dramatic jump in weddings starting this spring.
"Iraqis are taking advantage of the holiday and the good security situation," spokesman Abdul-Zahra al-Talagani said.
The surge in weddings was just one element of the unusually festive Eid celebrations this year, with huge traffic jams caused by people visiting friends and relatives and local parks and restaurants crowded with hundreds of thousands of people eating and dancing.
Such celebrations would have been impossible at the height of sectarian violence in 2006-07, when militias and insurgent groups controlled most of Baghdad and terrified Iraqis scarcely ventured out of their homes.
The worst of the bloodshed has receded, but violence continues in areas of mixed ethnicity and religion. Almost 100 people died in twin truck bombings last month in Baghdad.
Even as they embrace a newfound sense of security, Iraqis are also wary about the future. Iraq is heading into hotly contested national elections in January, and American troops are set to halt combat operations next summer.
In one wedding last week, Ali Mohammed, a 31-year-old groom, awaited his bride-to-be next to a smart new car decked with flowers, to the beat of a band playing traditional Iraqi music.
"Thank God I was able to hold the wedding during Eid. Everything looks so normal," Mohammed said.
Mohammed lifted the train of his fiancee's white dress and helped her into the car before a procession of cars and buses cruised the Baghdad streets for an hour, honking their horns and stopping occasionally so passengers could dance in the street.
Talagani said many more couples were wed at the less pricey hotels dotting the city. "When people feel safe, they can go out and do these things," he said.
Editing by Missy Ryan and Elizabeth Fullerton