Bars boom as Iraqis dance the night away

Sectarian tension disappears as the alcohol flows


There may be sectarian tension on the streets of Iraq but in the country's newly reopened nightclubs the tension dies as people gather to drink and dance the night away and mend ties with shout outs to different ethnic groups.

For one of Baghdad's elegant bars the fun kicks off at midnight when Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish youth flock to a night of fun, which until recently was banned by Saddam Hussein's government.

Club-goer, Sayyed Ali, moves between the tables to reach the stage where he throws money at the singer before he whispers something in her ear, the woman responds by shouting out a salute from the people of Nasiriyah to the people of Anbar.

Another person stands up and hails the Awakening Council, a coalition of tribes that maintain security in different parts of Iraq. As a third man salutes the people of the south, it becomes clear that this is the place where sectarian tension comes to die.

A favorite pastime

For the females dotted around the bar venturing out after midnight is in itself unusual but now they dance and freely mingle without a worry in the world.

"Senior police and army officers protect night clubs that were previously shut down under pressure from Islamists," one of the females clubbers said. "Looks like the sons of the new officials are not different from their predecessors in the way like to spend their nights in Baghdad."

Under Hussein's government all bars and nightclubs were shut down as part of what was called the "Faith Campaign," said the bar owner, who also used to run a similar one in the 1980s.

"Our customers have always been sons of officers and officials," he said. "We give them a special welcome since they guarantee the safety of our investments as well as the rest of our customers."

He added that the sons of officers and officials, together with Hussein's son Odai, were also the first to violate the Faith Campaign in the 1990s.

"However, officials feared for their sons and had to give in to pressure. Many of those sons settled later in neighboring countries in search of night life."

Looks like the sons of the new officials are not different from their predecessors in the way like to spend their nights in Baghdad


US funding

The bar owner vehemently denied that the United States gave him the funds that put him back in business and stressed that businessmen only need security to be encouraged to invest in bars and night clubs because everyone knows Iraqis like night life.

There are some, however, who are unhappy with the booming Baghdad night life as hardliners, preachers and Islamist MPs call for a ban on the import and sale of alcohol and seek to shut down all bars and clubs.

But for now clubbers are allowed to go about their business. "If a cop meets one of them and asks him where he's coming from, the customer replies, 'I was at a night club' the cop would then smile and say 'hope you had a good time,'" Sayyed Ali said.

The frequent club-goer dismissed Islamists' attempts to shut down the country's hot spots.

"No one can turn back time. Extremism and sectarianism are fading away."

No one can turn back time. Extremism and sectarianism are fading away


"We are all brothers"

A 17-year-old boy surrounded by girls gives money to the singer and asks her to send a shout out to the students of Baghdad University.

"He is the son of a senior official," said the club owner. "But he is not a trouble maker. Those girls are university students who come with him every now and then."

The club regularly features famous young singers from Syria, the U.A.E and Jordan. They have all come to welcome the return of Baghdad nights, the owner said.

As dawn approached, signaling the end of another night of clubbing, everyone was on the dance floor. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds all held hands and started dancing the Iraqi Dabka, a traditional Arab dance.

"Here is national unity. We are all brothers," shouted one of them.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Here is national unity. We are all brothers