In Anbar, Liquor Shops are an Unlikely New Sign of Hope

Abdo says he used to feel like some sort of smuggler even though Iraqi law doesn’t prevent anyone from drinking or selling alcohol.

Selling alcohol is a fairly lucrative business in some parts of Iraq. A bottle of spirits can be sold for double the original price in areas where alcohol shops don’t operate. A kind of network of contacts brings the spirits into those areas.

One local taxi driver, Yahya Darwish (not his real name), often takes passengers between Baghdad and Ramadi in Anbar. He got to know the soldiers deployed at checkpoints on the way between the two cities and was able to pass through with minimal inspection.

“At the beginning it was just one of my friends who asked me to bring back two bottles of spirits. When I got back, he was waiting for me and paid double what I had paid for the drinks, as well as the taxi fare,” the 44-year-old says. “After that I realized I could do good business with this trade and I started bringing back bottles to sell to friends and family.”

Darwish says that he has since expanded the trade and that his income is now dependent on it. “I know it’s a risky business but I now have customers of all kinds, from army officers to engineers and clerical staff,” he says.

The demand is another reason why locals are starting to open alcohol shops in the aftermath of the extremists. Under the IS group, selling and consuming alcohol or cigarettes could see the perpetrator punished severely, perhaps even executed.

Even before that, selling alcohol was seen as a sort of insult to local society here and to religious customs. Opening an alcohol store was a very risky business in the past. Even if one had a license, it could mean being harassed by locals and in some cases the presence of liquor stores have made people so angry that the shops have been blown up or vandalised and owners beaten or killed.

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