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Crackdown on alcohol seen as part of conservative moment in Iraq

A hired dancer is shown performing last year in a bar on Abu Nawas Street in Baghdad. Some Iraqis cite morality concerns in saying bars should be closed.
A hired dancer is shown performing last year in a bar on Abu Nawas Street in Baghdad. Some Iraqis cite morality concerns in saying bars should be closed. (Andrea Bruce/the Washington Post)
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During the 1990s, in an effort to appease conservative tribes whose support he desperately needed after uprisings by Shiites and Kurds, Hussein tightened social norms.

The party life suffered, Suleiman said, but liquor stores and some bars remained in business.

During the sectarian war that began in 2006, insurgents targeted liquor stores, which they deemed sinful, and they burned trucks transporting booze.

"During the sectarian years, we closed because we were a target," said Aziz al-Azidi, one of the managers at the liquor store. "They threatened us, and they threw grenades to destroy liquor stores."

As security improved in 2008 and dogmatic groups lost sway in Baghdad and other key cities, Suleiman opened his store again and began importing truckloads of wine, beer and spirits from neighboring Turkey.

In recent weeks, he and other liquor-store owners across Baghdad were told they would not receive new licenses after theirs expired at the end of the year.

"The citizens want their stores open," Suleiman said. "The people of Iraq need an open, secular country. But the government is trying to take a conservative route."

Radi Hassan, who owns a fish restaurant across the street from the shuttered bars, said he was pleased to see them raided.

"These places were operating without a license," he said, standing outside his restaurant on a chilly afternoon. "They even had dancing women inside, women of the night."

So far, security has been the dominant issue among politicians vying for votes in the election. But politicians have increasingly addressed issues of morality and social norms in parliamentary debates, articles in newspapers and on the campaign trail. Some have argued that the current government is overly influenced by religion; others have defended the government's right to set strict societal norms.

The Baghdad provincial council received numerous complaints about the nightclubs before ordering the raids, said council member Mohammed Rubaie.

Rubaie, among the most secular members on the council, suggested that the establishments be allowed to reopen in a nonresidential area, but his initiative got little backing.


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