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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Wave of attacks on Iraqi alcohol sellers
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

The aftermath of an attack on an shop selling alcohol
Shops selling alcohol have become targets in a wave of recent attacks

The smell of evaporating alcohol mixes with the acrid smell of burning. Broken glass covers the floor.

Not a single bottle survived the late night attack on Walid Jassem's once-thriving off-license.

Almost $18,000 worth of stock has gone up in smoke - and with it Mr Jassem's livelihood.

As he surveys the gutted remains of the store which he ran with his Christian partner, Manhal Paulus, he doubts his family has a future in the new Iraq.

"I'm thinking of leaving, and emigrating to Europe if I can," says Mr Jassem, a member of the Yazidi minority and father of four children, all of them under five.

"I don't know who's doing this, but it's organised terrorism. We minorities can't live like this. All my neighbours and friends have already left."

'Moral battle'

The bombing of Mr Jassem's shop is part of a wave of recent attacks on alcohol shops in Baghdad and other cities.

Muslims who drink should first be whipped, and then warned that they will be killed and then they should be killed. Sellers should be warned and then they should have their shops destroyed
Sheikh Hassan al-Musawi
Radical Iraqi cleric
No-one is certain who is behind it, although police have blamed at least one attack on members of the Mehdi Army, the militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr.

His men are no longer fighting American and interim Iraqi government troops, and some suspect they are now channelling their energies into a moral battle instead.

Secular Iraqis boast that Iraq had the first brewery in the Middle East.

Under Saddam Hussein, alcohol shops were allowed, although from the mid-1990s his regime banned drinking in public.

Now, in post-war Iraq, Muslim extremists appear to be taking advantage of widespread lawlessness to enforce their own moral codes - on Christians as well as Muslims - with the blessing of some religious leaders.

"I don't think Christ allowed alcohol or corruption or women not wearing headscarves," insists Sheikh Hassan al-Musawi, a cleric in Sadr City.

"In Islamic law, we do things gradually," he says.

"Muslims who drink should first be whipped, and then warned that they will be killed and then they should be killed. Sellers should be warned and then they should have their shops destroyed."

Threatened

But it is not just alcohol shops that are being targeted.

There have been threats against beauty parlours as well as CD and DVD stores deemed to be selling morally offensive material.

In a neighbourhood called New Baghdad - where graffiti on the walls reads "Long live Mohammad's Army" - six stores selling CDs and DVDs were bombed in just one week.

At his music store in one of Baghdad's smartest areas, Saad Yousif feels threatened.

He sells everything from Kylie Minogue to the latest Arabic pop, with Western imports accounting for around 70% of his sales.

"If nobody stops them, maybe they will go further by attacking even music shops," he says.

"I'm worried about myself, my wife and children, my career - my life."





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