Residents of Iraqi Kurdistan stock up on spirits as Ramadan kicks off
While Iraqi security forces were busy clearing the last pockets of Islamic State-controlled areas in Mosul and the wider public in Iraq was bracing for 30 days of fasting from dawn to dusk, 37-year-old police officer Abdullah had a more pressing issue at hand.
"Could I have three cases of Budweiser beer [72 cans] and two bottles of Araq," Abdullah asked the shop owner at Sarkarez neighborhood in the city of Sulaimaniyah on May 25, two days before fasting officially began.
Like thousands of others, Abdullah was stocking up on booze because authorities in the Kurdish region force liquor shops to close during Ramadan, leaving many consumers with the options of either buying a large quantity of booze beforehand or trying to find their way around the black market that emerges as the fasting begins. "I buy the alcohol now because it is much easier; it is too much of a headache to beg black market dealers during the fasting to sell you alcohol."
Local authorities in the three provinces in the Kurdish region announced May 25 that all liquor stores would close for the duration of the fasting.
"If you are caught selling alcohol during Ramadan, they usually detain you until the day after the month ends and you are given somewhere between a 2 million to 4 million dinar fine ($1,700 to $3,400)," said Rebaz, a Yazidi shop owner in the Khatara market in Sulaimaniyah. "I remember the alcohol shops were open during Ramadan until 2009 and we only had to cover the front door with a curtain," said Hammo, another shop owner in Sarkarez.
Asked why the authorities decided to close the liquor shops, Hammo (not his real name) said, "Do you want the truth? In my view, the main political parties are worried about populist sentiment and the power of religious preachers."