Kurdish officials reject Iraqi alcohol ban, say Baghdad should focus on real problems

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A shopkeeper displays a selection of Turkish alcoholic drinks to a Kurdish man at a store in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

ARA News 

Erbil – Kurdish officials on Sunday rejected the new Iraqi law which bans the sale, import, and production of alcohol. The officials stressed that the law –which was enacted by the Iraqi parliament on Saturday– would not be applied or enforced within the Kurdistan Region.

The surprise move by Baghdad is expected to cause outrage among minority groups, but also please influential Shia Islamist parties.

“The [Kurdistan] Region has its own parliament and will not implement this. No, it will not affect Kurdistan,” Falah Bakir, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Minister of Foreign Relations told ARA News. “[Iraq’s central government] should focus on more important matters.”

Safeen Dizayee, a Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) spokesperson, echoed Bakir’s remarks. He told ARA News explicitly that the ban would not affect Kurdistan.

“It’s a matter of personal freedoms, whether people want to drink or not drink. If you ban it, people will want it more, but if it’s allowed it will be normal,” Xelil Hassan, a 50-year-old Kurdish man from Erbil, said.

Alcohol in Iraqi Kurdistan is primarily sold in Ainkawa, Erbil’s Christian-majority neighbourhood. However, most large cities in the Kurdistan Region have alcohol shops, managed by religious minorities.

If alcohol is a vice, it’s widely perceived by Iraqi Kurds as a petty and banal one. Abu Mozart, a businessman from Erbil, told ARA News that the ban is only meant for Baghdad and wouldn’t mean anything in Ainkawa.

If the liquor ban was applied in the KRG, it would negatively affect Kurdistan’s expat community, who follow Kurdistan’s laws but also treasure their native customs. Several foreigners told ARA News that they would find it more difficult to reside in Iraq’s Kurdish region if alcohol is banned.

“Most expats are here alone without family. Alcohol provides one of the only means for social gatherings. That’s basically how most of us know each other,” said Omar Modak, a travel agency supervisor, who has been living in Erbil for five years. “[If they ban it], I might as well go back to Kuwait.”

“Banning alcohol [in Iraq] will put a lot of people out of work, aside from everyone going and spending their money in Lebanon instead,” he said. “It’s not like it’s going to stop them from drinking. They’re just going to start making homemade alcohol which can’t be taxed and regulated and will probably kill a bunch of people.”

Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, an Iraqi lawyer and former Ambassador, told ARA News that the ban would not be applied to Kurdistan and explained the legal mechanism for rejecting it. “This is not the federal government’s exclusive power, the KRG parliament can amend the application [and effectively] ignore it,” he said.

“Article 107 [of Iraq’s constitution] lists the exclusive powers of the federal government –such as foreign and defense policy– but this type of legislation is not included. Article 121 allows regional governments to amend the application of federal laws, not within powers listed in Article 107,” al-Istrabadi explained.

Concluding, al-Istrabadi told ARA News: “An alcohol ban in Iraq will be like prohibition in the US; they will just create a black market.”

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News 

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