View Full Version : Porn, drugs, weapons and looted goods readily available on Baghdad's streets as Iraqi

08-19-03, 06:10 AM
Porn, drugs, weapons and looted goods readily available on Baghdad's streets as Iraqis exploit 'new freedom'

By Andrew England
10:49 a.m., August 17, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq A Quranic verse plastered on a monument to freedom carries a simple message God will send a plague on those who deal in drugs and spread corruption.

But the message is being widely ignored.

Across the busy highway from the monument, built in 1958 after the overthrow of the monarchy, traders have set up gambling tables and are openly selling pornography, fake ID cards and looted goods including laboratory microscopes, industrial fuse boxes and pills stolen from psychiatric hospitals.

"Now we have freedom and democracy," said a 34-year-old trader selling pornographic DVDs with titles such as "The Dirty Family" and "The Young Wife," and photocopied postcards of couples in various sexual positions. "We could not sell them when Saddam was here."

This is Baghdad four months after U.S. troops took over the sprawling city of 5 million jobless, insecure, and in many cases taking "freedom and democracy" as license to do pretty much what you want and get away with it.

The trader, a father of two young daughters, was too embarrassed to give his name. Pornography is strictly forbidden by Islam. "It's too bad, but there's no job for me," he said.

Formerly a government civil engineer earning about $150 a month, he said he lost the job the day before the March 20 U.S. invasion. His streetside sales are now netting him about $1,500 a month.

As he speaks, young men gather around, some appearing drunk or high. Gunfire erupts in the background. Hardly anyone appears to notice.

Abas Fadah pushes through the small crowd offering tranquilizers and other drugs looted from "mental hospitals," by "friends."

At another sidewalk stall, a small television is screening a DVD of bare-chested Shiite Muslim men beating themselves at a religious ceremony. That too is evidence of Iraq's new freedom; Public displays of Shiite ritual were suppressed when Saddam and his Sunni minority ran the country.

All types of weapons, ammunition and drugs are also available in the street market in Bab al-Sharqi, or Eastern Gate a dangerous area in central Baghdad where few women dare to venture, the traders say. A day earlier arms peddlers accidentally fired a pistol, killing an 8-year-old boy, they say.

"This is democracy, but what kind of democracy?" said Hamed Hameed, yards from where minutes earlier armed youths had been fighting over prostitutes down a dirty, narrow street.

"It's worse because there are thieves, corrupt people who are looting in the streets. Young people carry guns who drink and shoot in the streets."

Hameed, who runs a warehouse, complained that Iraq's fledgling new police force does little to intervene and the 36,000 U.S. troops in the city don't know what's happening on the ground because they don't understand the language.

"The police are there but they are afraid. They hear shooting and they are scared to come. During Saddam's regime they used to take bribes. Now if they see a person being killed in front of them, they will do nothing," Hameed said, occasionally glancing warily over his shoulder. "I wish I was living in a desert rather than Baghdad."

On Friday, U.S. troops in Humvees fitted with loudspeakers rode around announcing in Arabic that street sales of alcohol would be banned beginning Monday.

Some 12,000 police are back on Baghdad's hot, dusty streets, as well as 1,850 traffic cops a small but conspicuous presence in blue uniforms as they struggle to handle traffic on the city's jammed streets. But still, few drivers observe road laws as vehicles ride up curbs or take short cuts by hurtling down highways the wrong way.

Many blame much of the indiscipline on Saddam's October amnesty, which released murderers, rapists and thieves from prison as the United States ratcheted up its case for invading Iraq.

"It was not good. It was intended by Saddam to make more problems in the country," said Ali Habib, a 47-year-old parking lot worker.

Without supervision, the new police will keep taking bribes, said Habib. "The people could be controlled by power; without power, nobody can control them."

His silver hair neatly combed, his beard trimmed, he sipped sweet, black tea at a cafe in the middle-class Inner Karadah neighborhood as U.S. armored vehicles sped down the next street.

Then, men around the table said they'd heard that a bank a few blocks away was being robbed.

The new freedoms also mean satellite telephones and TV for those who can afford them. Iraq as never had a mobile phone network, and satellite dishes were banned.

Now, Baghdad's flat-roofed houses are dotted with dishes imported from Syria, Jordan and Kuwait. These provide much of the pornography sold in markets.

Sheikh Muayiad Ibrahim al-Adhami, an Islamic preacher, said banditry and the trade in pornography, drugs and alcohol were "the natural result" of a people being released from years of oppressive rule.

"They express the freedom that they have been deprived of, but unfortunately the freedom is disorderly," al-Adhami said. "What you see are puddles that will soon disappear."

Some are getting back at the dictator in their own small ways.

Mohammed Said makes a living selling black and white photos of Saddam in Bab al-Sharqi's street market.

Some former Baath party members buy the pictures because they still love Saddam, he said, but others "buy them to stamp on them just to feel relief."