August 13, 2003

An Explosion of Vice

Sex and Drugs In Iraq

an excerpt:

"It is 10am and the crowd is pouring into the seedy Al Najah cinema on Baghdad's Al Rasheed Street. They come, at 70 cents a ticket, for sex on a loop - fleshy scenes from a dozen B-grade movies spliced into a single program, for which there is standing room only.

"In Sadoun Street the midday temperature is 50 degrees and the prostitutes tout for business from the shade of a beach umbrella. Further along, in Fidros Square - where US troops stage-managed the demolition of a statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9 - as many as 30 teenagers are sniffing glue and paint thinner.

"Drug dealers in the treacherous Bab al Sharqi markets, just off central Tahrir Square, are doing a brisk trade in looted prescription drugs.

"The biggest demand is for mind-altering, and addictive, medications. Each trader has a special, half-hidden box for what he calls feel good capsules and tablets - the Herald came away with a multi-coloured cocktail of 200 pills for less than $10.

"At the other end of the day hundreds of street drinkers converge on the banks of the Tigris River, openly selling and drinking gin, arak and beer in a raucous celebration of the ending of Saddam's rigid control of vice.

"Under Saddam, alcohol, drugs, pornography and prostitution were state-controlled for the pleasure of a few. But in the post-war vacuum vice has exploded and the likes of Majid Al Sa'adi's tea house, just back from the bustle of Sadoun Street, has become a one-stop shop.

"The TV on which patrons were obliged to watch endless speeches by Saddam and oily reports of his daily activities is now home to hardcore German pornography. Among the 25 adults sitting in the shop glued to the screen is a 12-year-old boy.

"Al Sa'adi's jeans pocket is stuffed with tablets. He sells between 60 and 80 a day for 80 cents each to customers who, he says, take them with their tea.

"This morning he shows all the woozy signs of having consumed his own product. But he has another line of business - offering the services of two black-shrouded prostitutes who sit on the pavement across the way. They, too, have obviously been drinking or taking drugs.

"Al Sa'adi dealt drugs, albeit secretly, when Saddam was in power - for which he spent two years in jail. But he says, all the while playing with a long-bladed Japanese knife: 'Business is much, much easier now that Saddam is gone. Now, there are no police.'

"'The prostitutes used to operate from hairdressing salons, but now they have come onto the streets and nobody stops them. Those girls,' - and he pauses to wave the knife at the two sitting on the pavement - 'would not have sat there when Saddam was in power. Even without the paint thinners they'd have been arrested. And I couldn't have carried even a single tablet in my pocket. It would have been too dangerous.'

"There are no sensible crime statistics in the new Iraq. What is clear is that crime has risen in a way that has left much of the population more fearful of the present than of the past."
"The US Administration in Iraq has been so slow in dealing with security issues that mosque communities, particularly those of the majority Shiites, have set up their own vigilante squads and Islamic courts, which hand out instant decisions on criminal and civil matters. There has even been a retreat to tribal justice in some parts of the country. Last week the Herald reported that a father had been ordered to kill his son or have his family executed after the young man was accused of collaborating with the US military."


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