Liquor Stores Return To Baghdad

November 4th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Liquor Stores Return To Baghdad

Los Angeles Times
November 3, 2007 Alcohol is again being sold, though very discreetly, as improved security brings back once-scared customers.
By Christian Berthelsen and Said Rifai, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
BAGHDAD It's Thursday night, the end of the Iraqi workweek, and Fami Ameen is scrambling in his crowded Assassin's Gate liquor store as customers clamor for everything from beer and whiskey to ouzo and arak, the popular local alcohol.
Call Ameen an unexpected beneficiary of the "surge."
For decades, Iraq had a reputation as a modern, secular society that liked to drink and knew how to party, from wild hotel discotheques to genteel members-only social clubs. But after the fall of President Saddam Hussein, extremists unleashed waves of firebombings against liquor stores, even killing owners, because alcohol is forbidden under Islamic law.
Just a year ago, Iraqis' taste for alcohol, and the businesses that sated it, were written off as a casualty of the country's new Islam-dominated order.
But violence in Baghdad has dropped in recent months under the U.S. military's security crackdown. And although many stores are still shuttered, their faded Carlsberg awnings caked with dirt, the booze business has rebounded, as Iraqis negotiating the gulf between their faith and their proclivities strike a delicate balance, discreetly traveling from all over the city, and even other provinces, to the remaining liquor shops.
"People were reluctant to make the trip before the past six months, but now they are encouraged with the somewhat alleviated security," Ameen said. "My wish is that the trend would continue, and we could go back to the prewar levels of distribution -- perhaps even more."
With new shops like Ameen's opening in secured areas near fortified Western military outposts, some retailers even say their sales have declined, because they now have so much competition. In one dubious measure of the progress, they say their biggest fear is no longer the militias that targeted them for religious reasons, but the criminals that would kidnap them for their revived fortunes.
Ameen, 27, a burly man with a big mustache, recalls arriving at his old liquor store in east Baghdad one morning three years ago, only to discover it was gone. "It was blown to smithereens, just like that," he said.
He had a second shop in the mostly Shiite district of Karada, but closed it out of fear it would suffer the same fate. He then moved his businesses to the Assassin's Gate, an ornate sandstone arch just outside the entrance to the fortified Green Zone. Two months ago, he consolidated into a larger space across the street.
Ahmed Abud, 35, lives in the Shiite district of Sadr City, where the liquor shops have all closed. But as a truck driver, he has a good reason to drive all over the city, and he took advantage of that with a stop at Ameen's recently for two tall boys of Heineken, which cost a little more than a dollar apiece. (Whiskey goes for about $21 per bottle).
"I'm from Sadr City and I can't buy alcohol from there like before the war, so I have to make trips to places like these," Abud said. "It would be nice to be able to buy it from closer areas."
The restrictions on alcohol consumption began in the 1990s, when, in an effort to shore up support among religious conservatives, Hussein banned drinking in public, including in restaurants, clubs, bars and hotels.
The move had economic appeal too, because it prevented the conspicuous consumption of expensive Western alcohol by a shrinking upper class, curbing resentment among a growing class of low- and moderate-income Iraqis stung by U.N. sanctions at the time who could no longer afford such luxuries.
The clubs and bars that were legendary for all-night hedonism faded away.
Only liquor stores run by non-Muslims were allowed to remain, and Iraqis' revelry was relegated to their homes. But even that became more difficult after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, when liquor stores across Iraq, especially in the Shiite south, closed down amid the threats and violence.
Mehdi Hindi, a 19-year-old Christian whose family has long been in the liquor business, set up shop in the Assassin's Gate area after he received a call four years ago from neighbors of his Karada store saying it had been blown up. He moved to a new space four months ago to avoid a rent increase.
"This place has always been safe because of its proximity to the Green Zone and the government institutions," he said. "Business has been picking up recently, especially during the last three months. I think it has to do with the better security situation. People come from all over Baghdad to this place to buy their alcohol because the shops in their neighborhoods have closed."
But even as Iraqis begin returning to liquor stores, they still take care to remain inconspicuous. On a recent day outside a liquor store on Saadoun Street, two men with a case of Johnnie Walker in their car were removing the bottles from the brightly labeled box and stashing them under the seats and in other hiding places.
Store owners are treading gingerly too. None of the new stores have signs identifying them as liquor retailers, and most of the older ones have removed banners and advertisements. Universally, the stores keep all the merchandise behind the counter. In many areas, the curbs are blocked off with concertina wire to guard against car bombings, and security convoys pass frequently.
Nawar Sabah, 33, a government employee, stopped into Hindi's store on a recent day for a couple of Heinekens. Then, apparently calculating how much he could reduce his visits to the store, he asked for five. Then 10.
"Ever since the invasion, things haven't been the same," he said. "People have to travel all the way across town in order to get drinks, and we all know the more you're out on the road, the more you're likely to become a casualty of some incident, if not actually a target."
Some tipplers are particularly happy that the dry spell may be over.
A construction worker and Sadr City resident, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition he not be named, told of how he was beaten last year by the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, after his brother complained to militia members about his drinking.
Now that the Iraqi army has supplanted the Mahdi fighters, he said, he no longer has to hide his liquor under his seat when driving into his neighborhood.
"The situation is now better than before -- I carry the alcohol in a black plastic bag and no one cares what I have in the plastic bag," the 47-year-old said. "I always drink, even at my work, at home at night, and even in the morning. I will never stop until the Judgment Day."
Times staff writer Usama Redha contributed to this report.
November 4th, 2007  
I wonder if they sell Killians....
November 4th, 2007  
Hmmmm..... Murphy's Irish Red in Iraq. That could be a dream vacation.
November 5th, 2007  
Rob Henderson
Thank God. This will bring all the stability we need back to the country. Heh

"Dude, I love you man!" -Shiia

"I love you too brother"-Sunni
November 5th, 2007  
Originally Posted by C/1Lt Henderson
Thank God. This will bring all the stability we need back to the country. Heh

"Dude, I love you man!" -Shiia

"I love you too brother"-Sunni


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