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Selling Alcohol in Baghdad a Deadly Job


Murder and arson are among the deadly perils facing alcohol retailers in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported Sept. 15.

Iraq is a predominantly Muslim nation, but it is still legal to buy and sell alcohol. However, the rise of religious extremism has made life dangerous for mainly Christian and Yazidi alcohol sellers. Liquor stores have been bombed, and some Iraqis who sold alcohol from their homes have been killed by militias.

Still, alcohol sellers report brisk business leading up to the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, when all liquor stores close for the month. “Usually the buyers take bottles, but now they buy boxes,” said Naim, a clerk at a liquor store on Saadoun Street. “They want to make sure they have enough until the end of the month. We are selling a lot of beers and whiskey.”

Before the first Gulf War, Baghdad was known for its riverside bars and clubs where patrons could drink, eat grilled fish and be entertained by belly dancers. The southern city of Basra offered similar attractions. But after the war, Sadaam Hussein publicly embraced Islam to bolster his support, banning public consumption of alcohol and closing nightclubs.

Business boomed after Saddam's ouster, with some selling alcohol on the streets, but the rise of religious parties and their militias crushed that business. Now, alcohol may only be sold legally in two locations in Baghdad: on Saadoun Street and in the Karradi Mariam area, just outside the Green Zone.

One Iraqi seller of cheap alcohol said that most of his clients are Muslim. “Christians and Yazidis sell, and Muslims drink,” he said.

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