Conservatives Try to Close 'Immoral' Coffee Shops

“The movement [continued to] target those groups they considered to be in violation of Islamic law,” Al-Monitor wrote. “Muhannad al-Gazi, an Iraqi social activist, told Al-Monitor on July 16 in Baghdad that groups affiliated with Asaib Ahl al-Haq have targeted cafes in the Karada district of Baghdad since the start of Ramadan this year. According to Gazi, one of the attackers was killed during clashes with cafe owners. Gazi said that when one of the group's members dies, they typically put up posters announcing the fighter was ‘martyred while carrying out his sacred duty’.” 

This is just the latest in what appears to be a campaign by religious conservatives against what some might describe as modern entertainment. In May ten women and seven men were killed by unknown assailants in a house in Baghdad that preliminary police investigations suggest was a brothel that the attackers came to because prostitution is in violation of their Islamic principles. Previously there were also a number of attacks on stores selling alcohol, that saw the proprietors murdered. Many believe there’s a connection between incidents like that and these kinds of cafe closures.

In the Karada incidents eye witnesses say a large group tried to close the cafes themselves. They say it looked like the group was supported by local police;  apparently the group has the backing of certain influential, local politicians. The group said the cafes had to be closed for the sake of the sanctity of Ramadan.

During the forced closures of the cafes, things became violent, guns were fired and one youth was killed and several others injured. Some reports say the youth was an innocent passer-by, others suggest he was part of the protest group.

Baghdadis are upset and alarmed by these kinds of incidents and many of the clashes and closures are being blamed on Baghdad’s brand new governor, Ali al-Tamimi, who is a member of the mainly Shiite Muslim, and generally conservative, Sadrist movement. This movement is led by the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. However al-Tamimi, whose bloc has said it will defend civil society and the rule of law despite its own religious nature, denied having anything to do with the cafe closures. In fact, local authorities then said that the closures of the cafes were illegal.

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