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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Barbers threatened by hardliners

BAGHDAD, 24 March 2005 (IRIN) - Muhammad Hussein, a 34-year-old barber, always opens his hairdressing salon in the Iraqi capital Baghdad early in the morning. His daily routine is to clean the floor, wash equipment and then take a few moments to enjoy a cup of tea with his partner and colleagues at work.

But now this routine could change after he received a threat from an unknown source, warning that he could be killed if he doesn't stop some of the services on offer in his shop.

Hussein is a father of three and depends on his work to feed the family. The threat received through a note left on the door of his salon, has forbidden him to shave men's beards, carry out beauty treatments, facial massages, modern haircuts, as well as colouring and doing "al-Haff", the Iraqi practice in which barbers use thread to pull out small hairs on the face to give a closer shave.

"Sometimes you don't have to offer but our clients are the ones who ask for different styles. I'm just doing my job and I have a family to look after. The country is a democratic country and I believe that anyone has the right to choose their way of appearance," Hussein told IRIN.

Nearly 15 barbers have been killed in the capital, according to local police, due to the services they offer in their salons. Maj. Col. Abbas Dilemi, senior officer at the investigation department of the capital, told IRIN that three areas in the city had shown an increase in such violence, especially with barbers. Dora, Allawi and Bataween districts have been the most affected, he said.

"We have investigated some cases and have found that most of the killers are professionals paid by unknown sources to have their victims killed. These kinds of investigations require money and unfortunately we don't have investment for these issues so far," Dilemi added.

Dilemi also complained that the police had also become a target and in this case they were searching for their killers. He said that in some cases they have found that the hitmen have been paid around US $150 dollars per death.

"My son was killed by them and justice should be done to judge the people who did that, as well as protect the other barbers who have become targets of the horrible insurgents," Mariam Kubaissy, 56, a mother of a murdered barber, told IRIN.

Despite the threats, many barbers are continuing their work. "I won't stop doing my job because by doing that you are just increasing the space for insurgents in the country. I don't believe that if a man wants to look more beautiful and elegant it should be forbidden," Abdul Rahman Yehia, a hairdresser in the Mansour district of the capital, told IRIN.

During Saddam Hussein's regime barbers say they operated freely, but have faced problems since the fall of his regime. Women are also now not allowed to visit their shops on religious grounds, some barbers told IRIN.

Threats have also been directed to women who leave their homes without the use of their veils and the traditional abaya coverings seen in Middle Eastern countries. Women hairdressers said they have also faced difficulties in getting to work due to the poor security in the country.

In Fallujah, some 60 km west of the capital, for several months before the US conflict started there in November 2004, Islamic militants were punishing beardless men and threatening women if the went out of their homes without veils, according to local people.

In southern Iraq, Shi'ite militants, particularly from the Mehdi army, loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr, have attacked alcohol stores and sometimes killed those who ignored their threats.

But most Iraqis believe that such action goes against democracy and human rights. "Each person has the right to choose what to do with his body and if there is something wrong with it, God is the only one who can judge us and no man in this world has the right to make his own judgement based on such actions," Ali Ibrahim, 23, told IRIN while having his hair cut.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights



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