Iraq’s ban on alcohol sparks controversy
By Carles Grau Sivera
Baghdad, Mar 22 (EFE).- Danny al-Mesih, an Iraqi Chaldean Christian who runs a liquor store in Baghdad, not only feared losing his job after a law prohibiting alcohol came into effect, but was also worried about the setback in the freedoms and rights of religious minorities in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.
“Banning alcohol is something impossible to apply,” al-Mesih tells Efe at the store on the capital’s Saadoun street, where several shops selling alcoholic drinks are located.
“We are Christians and it is not right for them to come and close our liquor stores. Iraq is also our country,” he added.
The 33-year-old’s store, like others, has continued to operate relatively normally even after the new legislation, which bans the import, production and sale of alcohol, was published in the official gazette on February 20.
The law was initially approved by the parliament in 2016 but remained in legal limbo until last month, following pressure from conservative Muslim parties, including political wings of some armed pro-Iranian militias aiming to turn Iraq into another Islamic republic.
A violation of that law carries up to 25 million Iraqi dinars ($19,000) penalty.
PROBLEM FOR MINORITIES
Al-Mesih explains the majority of liquor store workers in Iraq come from ethnic minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, making their shutdown an obstacle for these communities, which already experience institutional oppression.
“If they close them, where are we going to go? What are we going to do? It’s like they’re forcing us to leave our own country, and they can’t do that,” says al-Mesih, who is considering leaving for Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq that is not affected by the law.
According to several Iraqi Christian political parties, the eventual closure of these businesses could result in leaving some 200,000 people unemployed and even increase tensions between the various religious communities in Iraq.
Back in 1994, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein tried to ban alcohol but it sparked criticism because it went against the dictator’s regime. Among those who were critical was his son, Uday, who warned the measure could benefit fundamentalism.
A PERSONAL FREEDOM
Despite being a follower of Islam, a religion that considers drinking alcohol a major sin, Mohannad Abu Saif, 58, says he has bought a couple of bottles of whiskey and arak, a traditional anise-flavored spirit, because he is a regular drinker.
“I am a Muslim, but I drink to forget what is happening in this country,” he says, believing that consuming alcohol is “a personal freedom, but in Iraq freedom no longer exists.”
When the law entered into force in Iraq, alcohol decreased significantly mainly due to the fear of facing legal consequences.
Speaking to Efe, several vendors point out that the price of the product has almost doubled, forcing consumers who used to buy a whole bottle of liquor to settle for a quarter one.
A large part of those purchasing alcoholic drinks from the store are Muslims, the vendors say. They drink to “let off some steam” in the face of the desperate situation gripping the war-torn country.
“If they end up banning alcohol, we will go out to demonstrate. In Iraq, they consider those who drink to be infidels, but on the other hand, stealing and killing are allowed,” Abu Saif concludes. EFE