baghdad shi'iteA group of men recently ordered Siham al-Zubaidi to close down her Baghdad hair salon for two months for Shi’ite religious festivities. She had no idea who they were but complied because she feared for her life.

“Can you just tell me who will pay the rent of my shop for these two months? What shall I do to support my family? What is the relation between hair dressing and religious events?” Zubaidi, 40, asked furiously. “This is a new dictatorship. They want Iraq to be an Islamic state. But this is not right. Iraq includes a variety of religious factions … These are alien ideas, not Iraqi.” (Photo: Shi’ites attend Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City, northeastern Baghdad on March 5, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Recent efforts by authorities, clergy and unknown bands of neighbourhood enforcers to police morals by shutting nightclubs, bars and other establishments has heightened concerns among academics and intellectuals that Iraq, now emerging from war, is displaying the tendencies of a hard-line Islamic state.

Baghdad’s local government this month re-activated a federal order from last year to close down the capital’s nightclubs and liquor shops due to concern the venues were undermining morals.  The crackdown followed similar actions in some Shi’ite-majority provinces in the south.

“What is going on are normal consequences when religious parties take over power. They start with such practices, and end the way the Taliban in Afghanistan ended, or other parties in Iran,” Baghdad political analyst Hazim al-Nuaimi said.