BAGHDAD, (AFP) – Dozens of Iraqi writers and poets took to the streets of Baghdad Friday to protest at the closure of social clubs that serve alcohol in the capital, arguing that it harkened back to Saddam-era repression.
Holding up placards with the phrases “Freedom first” and “Baghdad will not be Kandahar,” they staged a demonstration near the Iraqi Writers’ Union (IWU) building in al-Wattanabi in the city centre.
“We don’t need a Khomeini state or a Taliban state in Iraq,” said IWU chief Fadhel Samer, referring to Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Afghan Islamist group respectively.
“What is happening to personal freedoms in this country is akin to what happened during the dictatorship. … It reminds us of the practices of the old regime.”
The protests were sparked by the closure of a cafe near the IWU building where writers and intellectuals often gathered to smoke sheesha water pipes and drink alcohol.
Baghdad provincial authorities argue that they are only enforcing a decree, issued during dictator Saddam Hussein’s religious campaigns of the 1990s, which said no restaurants or hotels could serve alcohol.
The ban, which exempts alcohol stores, was initially enforced last year. Under Iraqi law, only Christians and Yazidi-Kurds are allowed to sell alcohol.
“The government should end all this repressive behaviour — it restricts individual rights,” said Ali Hussein, one of the protesters.
“What is happening brings us back to religious campaigns launched by Saddam during the 1990s.”