BAGHDAD, (AP) – Local Iraqi authorities have outlawed alcohol in the province of Najaf, home to the holiest Shiite city, saying it contradicts the principles of Islam.
The decision to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol highlights efforts by religious parties to win support with Shiite voters before crucial parliamentary elections this January.
Alcohol consumption is forbidden under Islam, and liquor stores have often been targeted by both Sunni and Shiite extremists in Iraq. Although liquor can widely be purchased in places like Baghdad, even before the ban it was difficult to purchase legally in Shiite areas such as Najaf.
The stores are widely owned and operated by Iraqi Christians, and the move by the Najaf provincial council could trigger fears among the Christian minority and secular Muslims worried that religious extremism is growing in the country.
The Najaf provincial council’s decision followed a similar measure taken in August by authorities in the southern port city of Basra.
“In order to protect the holiness of the holy city of Najaf, the provincial council of Najaf decided unanimously to ban the selling and transit of all kinds of alcohol,” said Khalid al-Jashaami, a Najaf provincial council member.
Najaf is considered the most sacred Shiite city in the world and is home to the grave of Imam Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad.
Violators will stand trial, Al-Jashaami said.