Islamic gunmen in Iraq are intensifying their campaign against forms of behavior they regard as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
A dozen people – seven women and five men -- were shot to death in a brothel in the affluent Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad on Wednesday, the same area where gunmen targeted liquor stores last week.
It is unclear who staged the attack on the brothel, and no group has yet taken responsibility.
CNN reported that one of the gunmen scrawled the word "wanted" on the wall of the house of ill repute.
During last week’s attack on local liquor stores, 10 Christians (who tend to run them since Muslims are not supposed to drink) were murdered, although customers were permitted to leave unharmed.
Zayouna, in the eastern part of Baghdad, is an area where both Sunni and Shias live -- it is a wealthy commercial neighborhood, and a popular residential area for army officers.
Prostitution and alcohol are both banned by Islam, but Agence France-Presse reported that in recent years, a number of brothels have opened up in the area, while drinking alcohol is quite popular.
It is unclear how widespread prostitution is in Iraq, although the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reported that war, abandonment and poverty have forced many Iraqi women into the sex trade, placing them at great risk of arrest, imprisonment, abuse and violence.
Nonetheless, demand for their services is quite high, while pimps are often working in league with police and security officials. Brothels, in addition to bars, nightclubs and strip joints, operate in brazen defiance of the law.
An officer told Al-Hayat: “Prostitutes are the last link in a long chain that begins with hard-to-reach businessmen and pimps, who invest their money in the sex trade. This is not new to Baghdad. However, Iraqi girls who have recently returned from countries of asylum have packed the clubs and secret houses.”
Lisa Nisan, the chief of Baghdad Women Organization, a womens rights activist group, said prostitution has flourished in Iraq since the U.S. invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
"We have been involved in more than 200 cases of abuse and prostitution," she told the National newspaper.
"Iraqi women and children are cheap and end up being sold to brothels in the Gulf and even Europe. There are well-structured organizations behind this and there are some government officials who facilitate their work by providing paperwork, especially for those women who are transferred outside of the country."
As for alcohol in Islamic-dominated Iraq, booze is legal and has been freely available for years, although Islamic extremists often target businesses that sell liquor. NBC reported that most liquor shops are owned by minority Christians or Yazidis, adding to the religious zealotry of Islamic fundamentalists.
“Christians and Yazidis sell, and Muslims drink," a shopkeeper said.
Indeed, Baghdad and the southern city of Basra have long histories of alcohol, partying, nightclubs, prostitution and belly dancing. Saddam largely turned a blind eye to such salacious activities until 1993, when following the humiliation of Iraq’s loss in the first Gulf War, he ordered a ban on public consumption of alcohol, the closure of nightclubs and a crackdown on prostitution.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.