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Alcoholic beverage stores are being attacked with the aim of blackmailing their owners and forcing them to pay militias.
To toast al-Hamdaoui and Khazali
BAGHDAD - The Shiite militias active in Iraq find in the wine trade a rich source of funding that responds to their growing appetite for gaining money to meet their many requirements and the needs of their leaders and related politicians, as economists estimate the annual volume of this trade in the country at about one billion dollars, which makes this sector prosperous. On the one hand and attracting problems on the other hand.
The law enacted by Saddam Hussein's regime before it was overthrown by the United States by about two years permits the trade of spirits to non-Muslims, and imposes strict restrictions on their circulation sites in a country full of Husseiniyat, mosques and various religious shrines.
The political system that arose in Iraq after 2003 was unable to make amendments to the old law because it fulfilled all the religious requirements, but the difference is that the new parties turned this sector into a theater for illegal dealings, which was prevented by the previous regime and held accountable for it.
For example, obtaining a permit for a non-Muslim to open a shop selling alcoholic beverages during the time of the Baath Party regime required nothing more than fulfilling legal and health conditions, as well as the obligation to pay taxes. But obtaining a license at the time of political Islam parties requires bribes amounting to about 50 thousand dollars, provided that the alcoholic drink merchant pays about 50,000 more per month in exchange for protection of one of the Shiite militias most associated with those parties if he wants to work in Baghdad.
Spirits reach Iraq through ports from Turkey and Jordan, while a few are made in Baghdad and some provinces. Iraq is one of the countries in the region that consumes more alcohol at a rate of more than 9 liters per year per person.
Between import and local manufacturing, bribes to obtain licenses and protection costs, the alcohol sector trades worth $ 1.3 billion annually, according to unofficial statistics.
Because of this great economic activity of this sector, the government tried to deduct part of its alcohol income for it. When oil prices collapsed during the era of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the government imposed a tax of 200 percent on the import of alcohol, as it is considered a luxury commodity that is in circulation. In the door of luxury. However, the sector was not affected much by this tax, but the last consumer had to double spending on alcohol purchases.
Workers in the sector say that this trade was providing important job opportunities for non-Muslims in Iraq, but recently the legal condition linking the alcohol trade with these people was breached.
Because of the scarcity of job opportunities in Iraq, the alcoholic beverages trade absorbs many Muslim workers, in violation of the law.
Usually, they are protected by law enforcement from militias who receive monthly wages.
The law prohibits the opening of liquor stores in Iraq after ten in the evening and during religious events. But militias are present to protect these stores during times of prohibition.
Iraqi Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq are the militias most specialized in profiting from the wine trade and are able to protect merchants.
The irony is that Shiite militia leaders who are keen to participate in the rituals of remembrance of Hussein bin Ali, the most prominent of the Twelver Imams, double the amount of protection for liquor stores during the months of Safar and Muharram of each Hijri year, when the religious feelings of the Shiites reach their peak.
Although the Shiite militias affiliated with Iran are the first and largest beneficiary of the alcohol trade in Baghdad, they constitute the most serious threat to this sector.
Only a few militias can protect the alcohol dealers associated with them from attacks by other militias, so alcohol stores in Baghdad are exposed to regular attacks, either with the aim of blackmailing their owners and forcing them to pay or for media purposes that show Iran's followers as the guards of faith and sect.
It is known among liquor dealers in Baghdad that the best protection is provided by the Iraqi militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which was established by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and led by Ahmad Al-Hamdawi, who is listed on US terrorism regulations.
This militia protects some of the most important liquor stores in the upscale Al-Arasat area in Baghdad. It also protects a few five-star restaurants that offer alcoholic drinks during their evenings at night.
And in the second degree, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, headed by Qais Khazali, comes as trade that takes place under the wing of this militia is safe, as long as it does not intersect with the interests of parties linked to Kataib Hezbollah.
In the Camp Sarah neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, the largest alcoholic beverages stores in the country are distributed, and around these stores and near them are offices and headquarters of armed parties and militias, but these stores or their affiliated stores are rarely attacked. These warehouses are mostly owned by Christians and Yazidis, who usually have close ties with militia leaders who return to them in everything that obstructs this trade.
The owner of a store located in Camp Sarah that contains about 100,000 bottles of various alcoholic beverages, says that he has to pay twice for any shipment that enters the warehouse, for the first time he pays at least $ 200 for each checkpoint between the Turkish border and the capital, Baghdad.
Nevertheless, he considers that the sums paid to checkpoints on the road between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad are trivial, compared to what he pays the militias in the Iraqi capital to ensure the safe disposal of his goods, stressing that he currently pays about 30 thousand dollars a month to a militia to obtain protection.
The greater the volume of trade, the greater the amount required to provide protection, and it is the final consumer who has to bear the differences. Therefore, the prices of alcoholic beverages rise in a frenzy during the months of Ramadan, Zero and Muharram.
Dealers in this sector say that the alcohol trade in Iraq provides distinct opportunities to reap huge profits, because consumers are multiplying, while militias do not seem to stop reaping easy profits, as long as protection is required.
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