Iraqi officials said thousands of marriages between couples of different sects and faiths were registered this year, an indication of the success of national reconciliation efforts.
"More than 14,000 cross-sect marriages were registered in 2012, a record number compared to 2011 when only 8,000 mixed marriages were registered and 2010 which had 3,400 occurrences," said Salem al-Karkhy, chief judge of Baghdad's personal status court.
"These marriages often take place between young people, particularly university graduates aged between 25 and 35 years old, which is a good indication that Iraqi families with a solid foundation are being formed and cannot be separated on the basis of religion and culture," he said.
"These marriages are often the result of a love story between the two parties, which bypass all ethnic and sectarian differences," al-Karkhy said.
He said the families of such brides and grooms come to court in harmony and understanding.
"We believe this will reinforce and strengthen the social fabric in Iraq more than ever before," he said, adding that the decline in violence and sectarian strife bolstered these types of marriages.
Government officials and religious leaders welcomed the return of mixed marriages in Iraq following a decline in recent years due to terrorist operations.
"This phenomenon is a good indicator of the success of national reconciliation efforts in Iraq and the failure of terrorist operations to divide Iraqis to no end," said Amer al-Khuzaei, the prime minister's advisor for national reconciliation.
"Baghdad, Ninawa, Basra, Babil, Diyala and Anbar provinces recorded the highest numbers of mixed-sect marriages among Iraqis in a way that speaks of a united, peaceful society," he said.
Al-Khuzaei said mixed marriages include unions between Shias and Sunnis, Muslims and Christians, Sabaeans and Yazidis, and between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.
"Many people ask if it is right to have a mixed marriage, and we tell them that Islam is bigger and more merciful than to ban such marriages," said Sheikh Abdullah Fawzi al-Adhamy, the imam and preacher at the Omar bin Abdul Aziz Mosque in Baghdad.
"This is our faith, but terrorist groups distorted it in recent years. Thank God, today we see the revival of compassion among all, for religion is to God, and the homeland is for all," he said.
Al-Adhamy said the son of a well-known Sunni cleric married a Christian girl recently, and a Sunni girl married her Shia classmate.
"These are things we did not hear about in the past few years, but now the matter has become normal," he said. "It is an indication that society has recovered and begun to rid itself of the poisons of years of terror."
"Mixed marriages have been more successful than traditional ones because as we see it, it is a marriage of conviction, built on understanding, and therefore will last longer," said Sayyid Ali Kadhim al-Musawi, custodian of the Kadhimiyah shrines in Baghdad.
"Last week, we registered 13 marriages between Sunnis and Shias, and their weddings are scheduled for the first day of the coming Eid al-Fitr," al-Musawi said. "People have woken up and realised that terrorist groups did not bring them any good in the past, but instead brought bloodshed, destruction, killing, detonations and charred bodies."
Ehab Saad al-Dulaimi, 28, described his marriage to his colleague, a Shia, as the "right decision".
"Six months have passed since we were married, and we live in a house by ourselves in total harmony," he said. "What is more important, our two families have become very close friends, whereas before, they were opposed to this marriage. Now they have discovered they were wrong."
His wife, Hana Ali al-Rubaie, 25, said, "Religion has come as a mercy for humanity, not to cause bloodshed or separate hearts and bodies. We are now thinking of marrying my sister to my husband's brother, to make our intermixing stronger."