03/06/2023, 00.00
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Baghdad, Christian MPs against law banning alcohol sales

The Babylon Movement denounces its unconstitutionality because it ignores the rights of minorities. The law was approved in 2016, but only recently became official with publication in the Gazette. Fines of up to 16,000 euro. In Iraqi Kurdistan, a thousand-year-old Assyrian site was vandalised with the inscription 'Allah Akhbar'.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - A new front of conflict is opening up in Iraq over the sale and consumption of alcohol, a thorny issue that has long been debated, and which in the past has been the cause of deadly attacks on Christian shops and shopkeepers by Islamic extremist groups.

Some politicians are trying to annul the law banning the import and sale of alcoholic products, after the order came on 4 March to comply with the rule and enforce the ban. The rule became law last month, despite a fierce battle and strenuous opposition from the parliamentary minority. 

The five Christian MPs, elected on the basis of the quota of seats reserved for minorities, filed a lawsuit claiming that the rule against the sale of alcohol is 'contrary to democracy'. In Iraq, a Muslim-majority nation, consumption in public is disincentivised and an element of disapproval, although the drinks can be bought in shops or sold by bars with an appropriate licence. 

The law was passed in parliament in 2016 and carries fines of up to 16,000 euros. It prohibits the sale, import or production of alcohol, but only officially came into force last month, seven years after the vote, with publication in the official gazette.

At the moment, it is not known how strictly it will be enforced and whether the Supreme Court will reject it or keep it in force, ruling that it is in accordance with the law. 

In their appeal, members of the Babylon Movement denounce its unconstitutionality because it ignores minority rights and restricts personal freedoms. It is also in contradiction with a government decree, adopted days before it was published in the Official Gazette on 20 February, and which sets a 200% tax on all imported alcoholic beverages for the next four years.

Interviewed by Afp Sarmad Abbas, a trader in Baghdad, says that the ban will only end up fuelling the black market, but will not stop the sale of alcohol, which is certainly not restricted to the Christian minority.

He also acknowledges that Islam forbids its consumption, however he adds that 'here we are talking about personal freedoms that you cannot forbid citizens to practise'. In the past, the Chaldean Patriarchate had also intervened on the issue, calling the anti-alcohol law a "liberticidal norm" and that "at a critical time like this [2016, ed.] when the offensive in the north is underway" against the Islamic State "it hurts everyone and, in particular, national unity". 

The reasons for concern for Iraqi Christians do not stop at alcohol. On 3 March, vandals attacked and desecrated an Assyrian archaeological site in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan. The attackers left Islamic extremist writings and slogans, striking for the third time at the same place in the last seven years.

The Halamata Cave on Mount Zawa, south of the city, is almost 3,000 years old and depicts King Sennacherib who ruled the Assyrian empire between 704 and 681 BC. Among the inscriptions on the relief is the motto 'Allah Akhbar'.

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