Some good news. Drink up, all you people!
By Christian Berthelsen and Said Rifai in the Los Angeles Times (thanks to all who sent this in):
...For decades, Iraq had a reputation as a modern, secular society that liked to drink and knew how to party, from wild hotel discotheques to genteel members-only social clubs. But after the fall of Saddam Hussein, extremists unleashed waves of firebombings against liquor stores, even killing owners, because alcohol is forbidden under Islamic law.
Just a year ago, Iraqis' taste for alcohol, and the businesses that sated it, were written off as a casualty of the country's new Islam-dominated order.
But violence in Baghdad has dropped in recent months under the U.S. military's security crackdown.
Coming from all over
And although many stores are shuttered, their faded Carlsberg awnings caked with dirt, the booze business has rebounded, as Iraqis negotiating the gulf between their faith and their proclivities strike a delicate balance, discreetly traveling from all over the city, and even other provinces, to the remaining liquor shops.
"People were reluctant to make the trip before the past six months, but now they are encouraged with the somewhat alleviated security," Ameen said. "My wish is that the trend would continue, and we could go back to the prewar levels of distribution — perhaps even more."
With new shops like Ameen's opening in secured areas near fortified Western military outposts, some retailers even say their sales have declined, because they now have so much competition.
Kidnapping is bigger fear
In one dubious measure of the progress, they say their biggest fear is no longer the militias that targeted them for religious reasons, but the criminal gangs that would kidnap them for their revived fortunes.
Ameen, 27, a burly man with a big mustache, recalls arriving at his old liquor store in east Baghdad one morning three years ago, only to discover it was gone. "It was blown to smithereens, just like that," he said.
He had a second shop in the mostly Shiite district of Karada but closed it out of fear it would suffer the same fate. He then moved his businesses to the Assassin's Gate, an ornate sandstone arch just outside the entrance to the heavily fortified Green Zone. Two months ago, he consolidated into a larger space across the street....