Mustafa Ali Noor
During recent weeks, an array of radical Islamic groups have ramped up their rhetoric against liquor stores and other business establishments in Baghdad – mostly owned by Christians and Yazidis. These groups of fanatics claim, liquor stores were violating Islamic religious edicts against drinking and other trades [run by non-Muslims] considered sinful. One such group, Rabu Allah or God’s gang claimed responsibility for raiding massage parlors in the heart of Baghdad and physically assaulting female workers. Another group calling itself “Ahl al-Qura” or “The Village People,” said it had bombed an underground nightclub. Those who have protested or stormed the establishments have carried the flag of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a state-sponsored network of armed groups, many of which have close ties to Iran.
Despite being formed earlier this year, these groups are already well-known for claiming rocket attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad, attacking a TV station broadcasting cheerful music during a religious holiday and setting the offices of a Kurdish party alight.
Sharia principles haven’t stopped at the borders of Muslim countries. Remember that last year, Captain Morgan asked visitors to their website to confirm that they were non-Muslim, but removed the requirement after an outcry. More recently, German officials proposed a ban on alcohol to prevent a recurrence of riots in Stuttgart by Muslim migrants screaming “Allahu Akbar”.
According to France24 TV, escalating attacks on the Iraqi capital’s few liquor stores have terrified shop-owners who fear hardline Islamists are flexing their muscle against alcohol consumption.
But there may be a bigger story behind the Baghdad booze bombings, as some suspect turf wars for control of the lucrative niche trade in the Muslim majority country.
Over the past two months, at least 14 alcohol shops across the city have been firebombed in the middle of the night or just before dawn, with three simultaneous attacks in different districts just last week alone.
Most businesses are run by Christians or Yazidis, minorities who for decades have been granted the licenses required to sell alcohol in broadly conservative Iraq.
Andre, an Iraqi Christian told AFP, his shop was firebombed a few weeks ago by two people on a motorcycle just before dawn, according to the store’s security camera footage.
He said it had cost him thousands of dollars to replace the lost merchandise and repair the shop.
“These groups want the last of the Christians to leave the country. They’re targeting us,” Andre told AFP, as his brother stacked new bottles of whisky on restored shelves.
He blamed security forces for negligence, saying a police patrol that had been deployed nearby left its post for hours, which gave the attackers a window of opportunity.
“Why doesn’t the government arrest them?” Andre asked angrily, saying he had even provided authorities with the license plate number of the attacking vehicle from their CCTV footage.
The attackers had “time to place the explosives, take pictures before and after and publish them on Facebook,” he said.
“You really can’t pursue these guys?”
Another business owner, speaking on condition of anonymity in fear of reprisal attacks, said it was an attempt to crush the shrinking community of Iraqi secularists.
“We are all that’s left of a liberal lifestyle. There are attempts to kill this ancient side of Baghdad — if they win, Baghdad will have lost its liberal side,” he said.