Doah Muhammad played a trick on her mother-in-law Tuesday. She called and told her that her son, Doah's husband, had been arrested by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.

With the news, her mother-in-law gasped and said she felt faint. Doah quickly told her that it was only a prank, and the two women laughed -- it was, after all, April Fools' Day.

Before 2003, the traditional day of tricks and practical jokes -- known in Iraq as Kithbet Neesan (April Lie) and imported from the West decades ago -- was observed much as it is in the United States. The teasing was biting but ultimately tame.

In recent years, though, as suicide bombings, kidnappings and killings have become daily fare, Iraqis' April Fools' jokes more often reflect what they see around them.

Nadia Abdul Razak, 35, said the macabre humor offered a chance for people who spent their days bouncing from terror to grief to laugh for a change.

But she said it was sometimes difficult to tell what was serious and what was not. That morning, she said, she had been told that the husband of a friend had been wounded, with three bullets in his leg.

"We said, 'Maybe it is Kithbet Neesan,'" Razak recalled.

But a call to the man's wife found the woman weeping, she said, and more calls to the hospital confirmed that her husband had been shot.

"Because of the current situation, we can't distinguish between the reality and the jokes," Razak said. "We don't know which is the truth."

new York times