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Meet Mosul's rebellious tattoo artists

Mosul's tattoo artists went underground when the Islamic State occupied the city, but now they're back and they hope the city is more open than before the occupation.

MOSUL, Iraq — Mosul's first tattoo parlor is hidden behind a simple sheet metal wall. Tattoo artist Amar, 29, has a thin mustache and a big smile. He opened his shop four months ago in the neighborhood of Karamah, which, though impoverished, was spared from much of the fighting between the Islamic State (IS) and the Iraqi army. At about 15 square meters (161 square feet), the shop is just big enough to fit in the dozen young Moslawis huddling around Amar, who is busy sketching a design for a tattoo on the shoulder of his friend Zaid.

"I was nine or 10 when I tattooed someone for the first time," Amar told Al-Monitor. "Saddam Hussein was still around!" One after the other, Amar's friends undress to get their tattoos, bursting with laughter as they do so. The group, listening to deafeningly loud music, seems unbridled. "We're getting drunk all the time now," commented a tattooed man, who says he has barely tasted whiskey since 2014, when IS occupied the city. Most of the men sport tattoos of tigers and dragons, busty pinup girls and scorpions, but Zaid opts for a design to symbolize his newfound freedom. On his skin, as the pearls of blood from the needle's prick eventually fade, a butterfly tattoo is revealed.

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