Iraqi Nightclub Crackdown Fuels ‘Islamization’ Fears

A string of violent police raids on Baghdad nightclubs has fueled speculation that the government is phasing in the rule of Islamic law, writes Ali al-Saray. He also cites a newly imposed a ban on non-Islamic clothing in a holy Shiite city. 

al-monitor People dance at a nightclub in Baghdad in this July 9, 2009 file photo. A government crackdown shutting nightclubs, bars and other establishments has heightened concerns that Iraq, emerging from war, is displaying the tendencies of a hard-line Islamic state. Photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/Files.

Topics covered

velayet-e-faqih, shiite, muqtada al-sadr, islamization, alcohol

Sep 12, 2012

Iraqi activists are looking into the reasons behind the authorities’ decision to close Baghdad nightclubs.

First, one must take note of the new restrictions being imposed on public freedoms in the country. Second, the ruling political elite in Iraq is seeking to establish a regime along the lines of "Wilayat al-Faqih" [Supreme Jurist Leadership], albeit slowly and carefully. They seek to transform the security apparatus into a device for the "propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice."

The Baghdad-based Iraqi central government ruled out any decision to suppress personal freedoms or to oppress minorities. However, it claims that the decision to close nightclubs came as the result of many complaints made by citizens that "they can no longer tolerate drunken people near their homes, stores and markets."

Security officials backed up these complaints. According to officers in the security commission in the province of Baghdad, these nightclubs "promote prostitution and host suspects." Moreover, in a statement to Iraqi reporters, the spokesman of Baghdad Operations Command said that "many nightclubs that are operating without official permits have been shut down according to judicial orders. The closure came after these nightclubs failed to heed the many warnings sent in this regard."

Raid and Closure

Late on the night of Sept. 4, Iraqi soldiers raided nightclubs with warrants for closure signed by the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces. Soldiers ransacked the nightclubs halls and violently forced customers to leave. According to eyewitnesses, some customers were severely beaten. One of the victims, who is in a hospital in central Baghdad suffering from bone fractures and bruises, told Al-Hayat that "soldiers threw him and his friends from the top of the nightclub stairs to the corner of the street."

According to another eyewitness, who is a doctor and was meeting with his colleagues in the pharmacist club in central Baghdad, an officer with his group of soldiers raided the club. The doctor told Al-Hayat that the officer shouted at customers saying that "they have until the count of ten to leave the place." Those who were late to leave were beaten with batons.

The next day, MP Ali al-Allaq, chairman of the Endowments Parliamentary Committee, spoke of a draft resolution to prevent access to alcohol. Moreover, in his Friday sermon in the city of Kerbala, Sader Din Qabbanji, a senior leader in the Supreme Islamic Council demanded that the law of "propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice," be implemented, praising the security services actions.

Islamic Cities

The raid on nightclubs targeted specific areas of Baghdad, such as Karrada and nearby neighborhoods. Security forces raided the clubs of “Al-Mashriq, Ashurbanipal Cultural Association, in addition to the Iraqi Writers’ Union club and the pharmacist and filmmaker clubs.” It is known that a number of these clubs are affiliated with Iraqi Christians. However, a large number of these clubs’ clients are Muslims.

The person in charge of Al-Mashriq club told Al-Hayat that “dozens of security forces raided the club and attacked the clients. They beat them with cables and guns and fired shots above their heads.” The raided areas are considered to be the capital’s commercial and cultural centers, where many newspaper offices, Arab satellite channels headquarters, cultural centers, galleries, theatres and libraries are located. However, these areas also include the homes and offices of officials in the Iraqi government, mostly belonging to Islamist parties.

It is worth noting that many political parties hung banners on the walls of Karrada city, demanding the closure of these clubs. This is not to mention that people have been incited to “banish those who drink alcohol,” and “castigate the young people who are not dressed according to the Islamic teachings.” The scenario of closing nightclubs and banning musical events is once again being played out in Baghdad. “Security forces should not be involved in monitoring personal freedoms. They ought to fight terrorism and pursue criminals. … We used to meet with officers and discuss human rights with them. However, our words are gone with the wind,” said MP Chuan Mohamed Taha, a member of Security and Defense Committee in the Parliament, to Al-Hayat.

Iraq … an Islamic State

Article 37 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates that “The state shall protect citizens against intellectual, political and religious coercion.” However, Iraqi authorities seem not to pay much heed to this article.

The Baghdad-based Iraqi central government issued a decision in early September that banned female travelers who are not dressed according to Islamic teachings from entering al-Kadhimiya city. A banner that has been hung on one of the city’s gate read the following: “We appreciate the government decision to prevent unveiled and immodest women and men who are sporting unacceptable outfits and hairstyles from entering the holy city al-Kadhimiya. Those who do not abide by this decision will be subjected to legal accountability.” This welcoming note is signed by the “residents of al-Kadhimiya city.”

The gate is located about one 1.5 kilometers away from the shrine of Imam al-Kadhim, the seventh Shiite imam. The distance between the gate and shrine is filled with markets, shops, restaurants, rest houses and hotels, which are frequented by hundreds of tourists during the day. Before this new decision, the ban was limited to the courtyard beside the shrine.

According to a prominent political source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Iraqi government is working in stages to Islamize Iraqi society and impose new restrictions. The source told Al-Hayat that the government is expected to mandate the wearing of the hijab in official departments, and prevent the importation of alcohol. The source expects the government to impose penalties, including imprisonment and fines, for any infringement of these policies.

Al-Hayat asked leaders in the Islamic Dawa Party, headed by al-Maliki, whether the government is seeking to establish and Islamic regime, their answer was: “No comment.”

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