Mass unemployment, corruption and insecurity: How Iraq government's alcohol ban ignores the country’s real suffocating problems 

Alcohol Iraq
5 min read
03 March, 2023

On February 20 the Iraqi government announced the banning of the import, production and sale of alcohol.

The news of the ban was published in the official Gazette of Iraq, a state newspaper belonging to the ministry of justice.

Article 14 of the law stipulates a ban on the import, production or sale of alcoholic beverages of all kinds in Iraq. The article’s second paragraph says those who violate the law can face fines between 10 and 25 million Iraqi Dinars, roughly between $6,800 and $17,100 according to the official market rate.

The move has caused a debate, as some have said it does not take into consideration the non-Muslim minority in the country who can consume alcohol.

"Selling or importing alcohol is not our problem, the real problem is the widespread corruption in the whole country"

Iraqis on social media and opponents did not agree with the new law, arguing that it violated Iraq’s constitution giving freedom to individuals, especially to Christians, Yazidis and Sabeans and that it was an attempt to apply Sharia law on non-Muslim Iraqis, depriving them of practising their constitutional rights.

“The new law to ban alcohol is a clear constitutional violation. I am afraid that the next step the Iraqi government might take is to impose the hijab, turning the country into a ‘second Iran,’" said 33-year-old Ayman Hashim from Basra.

"It could lead to a dangerous escalation of human rights and freedom. Is the government addressing all Iraqis when it comes to banning alcohol?” he asked.

The number of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities has dwindled in Iraq over the decades due to conflict and instability, persecution by the Islamic State group, and economic crises.

"Is the government addressing all Iraqis when it comes to banning alcohol?” 

Unofficial numbers in the Middle Eastern country of 43.5 million put Muslim Shias and Sunnis at over 95 percent. The rest are Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Bahai’s and others.

Since the fall of Saddam in 2003, shops selling alcohol have been targeted by Islamist parties in the capital Baghdad and other southern cities. Alcohol stores were closed down again in 2006, during sectarian tensions. Shop owners selling alcohol were being shot and killed.

In 2016, the Iraqi parliament voted to ban alcohol but the decision had not been an enforceable law as it has not been published in the official newspaper.

Basra academic and artist Fayez Al-Kanaan said: “Instead of banning alcohol, the Iraqi government should take into consideration its people's needs. It should prioritise improving people's living conditions and providing better services. The authorities surprised us with such a law – it means the current government does not understand its people's needs properly.”

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Fayez added, “Iraqis are waiting for job opportunities, better housing and healthcare as well as other basic rights they have been deprived of for decades. Selling or importing alcohol is not our problem, the real problem is the widespread corruption in the whole country. Furthermore, the government, by this new law, violates people's rights to practice their freedom that Iraq’s constitution has stated.”

Mohammed Raad, 24, a Basra native college graduate said: “It is a shame that the government chooses to ban alcohol while thousands of young people are still looking for a job, the government only take care of themselves and never works in favour of people.”

Mohammed believes that banning alcohol will only lead to a black market of liquor.

"During the protests in Tishreen, we were demanding freedom and our rights. Where are they? I would love to tell the government that we live in Iraq, not Qandahar or Tehran," he added. 

Mohammed Gailan, an Iraqi human rights activist told The New Arab: “The government is basically moving towards the Islamisation of Iraq, and if I am not mistaken, it is definitely Iranian-driven just like what happened in Iran back in 1978 – but now it is low-key given that the spotlight is being directed towards Iran on an international level.”

Mohammed Gailan added: “This new law of banning alcohol will affect the average Iraqis negatively, especially the youth who are already being faced with enough restrictions over their basic human rights and freedom. This will only cause them to leave and migrate to other countries seeking a better life and more freedom.

“It is well known that banning alcohol is a positive law in favour of those who are in power as they will have great control over the black market. Moreover, the law will lead to the spread of drugs in Iraq, and we all know that Iran is the first and only exporter of drugs to Iraq,” he added. 

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Baghdad-based economic researcher Hamzah Al-Hardan told The New Arab: “The government’s decision to ban production, import and sale of alcohol is ill-conceived and arbitrary – it does not agree with the freedoms stated by the constitution and does not respect the ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. It is weird that months ago, the government announced an increase in the tax rate on alcohol by 200%, and now it released another law to ban it."

Hamzah added, “Such decisions have negative repercussions on the state's imports from taxes, as such decisions will contribute to revitalising the black market and smuggling, which in turn will be unmonitored and controlled. It will also affect the imports of the tourism sector, which is already suffering just like other economic sectors in the country.

The researcher also explained how the decision means that all liquor factories will have to be closed down in Iraq. These are mainly owned by people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds including Christians and Yazidis who have been working in this field for a long time. "This threatens their only source of income," Hamzah reveals. 

"Another dark side of this law is that it will lead to increased drug dealing, which has already spread widely in Iraq in recent years, especially in the southern cities where alcohol is prohibited," Hamzah said. 

Azhar Al-Rubaie is a freelance journalist based in Iraq. His writing focuses on a variety of issues, including politics, health, society, wars, and human rights. 

Follow him on Twitter: @AzherRubaie