Islamic Extremists Target "Vice" in Iraq

By Sarah Beller 05/22/13

Fundamentalists seek to eradicate behaviors "contrary to Islam" with deadly attacks on brothels and liquor stores.

A liquor store in Baghdad. Photo via

More recent violent attacks in Iraq are thought to be part of a growing movement by religious fundamentalists to target behaviors contrary to the teachings of Islam. Twelve people, seven women and five men, were shot to death in a brothel in Baghdad today, in the same neighborhood where gunmen targeted liquor stores last week, killing ten people. Prostitution and alcohol consumption are both banned under Muslim religious law, but Agence France-Presse reported that in recent years, a number of brothels have opened up in the area and drinking alcohol is "quite popular." Brothels are illegal, but according to Lisa Nisan, the chief of Baghdad Women Organization, prostitution has flourished in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Alcohol has been legal for years and is mainly sold by minority Christians or Yazidis, which fuels the zealotry of extremist groups, NBC reports. “Christians and Yazidis sell, and Muslims drink," a shopkeeper said. Although Iraq is considered less conservative than neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, some fear the recent attacks could signal that extremist sentiments in the region are intensifying. The selling of alcohol has long been a source of contention in the Middle East; a few months ago, Egypt's conservative president Mohammed Morsi restricted the sale of booze, sparking economic concerns, as the nation relies heavily on its thriving tourism industry.

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.