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Iraq’s crackdown on booze, social media posts raises alarm

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BAGHDAD — Just a few months into its time period, Iraq’s authorities is abruptly implementing a long-dormant regulation banning alcohol imports and arresting folks over social media content material deemed morally offensive. The crackdown has raised alarm amongst non secular minorities and rights activists.

Some see the measures as an try by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to go off potential political challenges from non secular conservatives and to distract from financial woes, resembling rising costs and wild forex fluctuations.

The ban on the import, sale and manufacturing of alcohol was adopted in 2016, however was solely revealed within the official gazette final month, making it enforceable. On Saturday, Iraq’s customs authority ordered all border crossings to impose the prohibition.

Though many liquor shops throughout Iraq continued enterprise as traditional — presumably utilizing up their shares — border crossings went dry in a single day, apart from the northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish area which hasn’t enforced the ban. The value of alcohol, in the meantime, spiked on account of tightened provide.

Ghazwan Isso manufactures arak, a preferred anise-flavored spirit, at his manufacturing unit in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest metropolis. He sells it, together with imported, foreign-made alcohol, at 15 shops in Baghdad.

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“There are imported items on the borders that aren’t allowed to enter, with a worth of tens of tens of millions of {dollars},” he mentioned.

Isso mentioned he’s additionally caught with $3 million price of products in warehouses — liquor produced in his manufacturing unit. It is not clear but if and when the ban on the sale of alcohol shall be enforced as effectively, however Isso mentioned he will not ship his vans from his Mosul manufacturing unit to Baghdad for worry they will get stopped.

For Isso, the ban is a blow to Iraq’s multi-confessional social cloth. He believes it’s going to immediate extra non-Muslims to to migrate.

Alcohol is mostly prohibited in Islam — the faith of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis — however is permitted and utilized in non secular rituals by Christians, who make up 1% of Iraq’s inhabitants of about 40 million.

“The regulation is a narrowing of freedoms,” Isso mentioned, including the ban would encourage “bribes and blackmail, as a result of alcohol shall be bought the identical approach like unlawful medicine.”

Joseph Sliwa, a former Christian lawmaker, blamed the choice to start out implementing the regulation on extremists inside Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities. He mentioned alcohol store house owners and producers would develop into weak, with these in energy or armed teams possible making an attempt to squeeze them for bribes.

Like Isso, Sliwa additionally anxious the alcohol ban might improve the usage of unlawful medicine.

A decide and former lawmaker, Mahmoud al-Hassan, defended the ban as constitutional and argued that it is consistent with the beliefs of most Iraqis and subsequently wouldn’t impression private freedoms.

“Fairly the other, nearly all of the folks of Iraq are Muslim and their freedoms needs to be revered,” he mentioned. “They make up 97% of the nation.”

He downplayed fears that outlawing alcohol would improve trafficking of different medicine. “Medication exist already, with or with out this regulation,” he mentioned. “Alcohol additionally causes habit and social issues.”

The alcohol ban comes on the heels of the contentious marketing campaign to police social media content material.

In January, the Inside Ministry shaped a committee to research experiences of what it referred to as indecent posts and arrange an internet site for public complaints. The positioning acquired tens of 1000’s of experiences.

A month later, judicial authorities introduced the courts had charged 14 folks for posting content material labeled indecent or immoral; six have been sentenced to jail time.

Amongst these focused have been individuals who posted movies of music, comedy skits and sarcastic social commentary. Some confirmed dance strikes deemed provocative, used obscene language or raised delicate social points resembling gender relations in Iraq’s predominantly conservative society.

Amnesty Worldwide and Human Rights Watch, in addition to native and regional rights teams, mentioned the crackdown on expression violates basic rights.

“Iraqis needs to be free to precise themselves … whether or not it’s to make jokes or interact in satire, criticize or maintain authorities accountable, talk about politics or non secular matters, share joyful dancing, or have public conversations on delicate or controversial points,” the teams mentioned in a joint assertion.

Amer Hassan, a Baghdad courtroom decide coping with publishing and media points, defended the arrests in an interview with the state Iraqi Information Company.

“There’s a confusion between freedom of expression, which is protected by the structure” and what he referred to as offensive content material.

Hamzeh Hadad, an adjunct fellow on the Heart for a New American Safety, a Washington-based suppose tank, mentioned the measures could possibly be a part of an try to distract from Iraq’s unstable forex and to pander to the bottom of the conservative Shiite cleric and political chief Muqtada al-Sadr, a rival of al-Sudani’s bloc.

Hadad mentioned the alcohol ban might disproportionately have an effect on Christians and different non-Muslim non secular minorities — a dwindling inhabitants in Iraq, notably within the years for the reason that formation of the extremist Islamic State group, which at one level managed extensive swaths of the nation.

Nonetheless, Hadad famous there have been additionally “highly effective actors with monetary pursuits in alcohol” who may legally problem or just flout the ban.

Spiritual minorities usually are not the one ones pushing again towards the measures.

“I personally am a Muslim and am not with the regulation,” mentioned Mohammed Jassim, a 27-year-old from Baghdad who says he drinks alcohol commonly. Now he and others like him “shall be compelled to buy alcohol underneath the desk from those that dare promote it illegally,” he mentioned.

Many Christians see the ban as an try to marginalize their neighborhood.

Within the northern Christian city of Qaraqosh, a liquor store proprietor who spoke on situation of anonymity for worry his enterprise could possibly be focused, mentioned the federal government’s transfer stings, notably within the wake of years of lethal assaults on Christians by IS militants.

“They’re telling us to get out, we don’t need you on this nation anymore,” he mentioned.


Sewell reported from Beirut. Related Press author Farid Abdulwahed in Qaraqosh, Iraq, contributed reporting.

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