Baghdad nightclubs thrive as violence eases

Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:24am EDT
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By Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Dally, a 19-year-old Iraqi, braves unruly customers and social condemnation when she takes to the stage in revealing belly-dancing garb at a Baghdad nightclub each night.

But the hassle she faces -- in a country where many women wear long black robes showing only their faces -- is a long way from the dangers at the height of Iraq's sectarian war, when militias executed people seen as transgressing social norms and suicide bombers killed dozens of people at a time.

Known in the 1970s and 1980s as a permissive, anything-goes corner of the Middle East, Iraq slowly became more socially conservative.

Things changed sharply after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, when Islamist parties gained power and extremist groups took control over swaths of Iraq, forcing women at gunpoint to dress modestly and preventing unmarried youths from mingling.

In Baghdad, nightclubs were shuttered and people dared not venture out at night.

As the worst of the violence unleashed in 2003 has faded, a buzzing nightlife has returned to the Iraqi capital. Some 17 nightclubs have opened in Baghdad, most featuring provocative dancers, suggestive music and ample booze.

"This shows there is democracy in Iraq. It is healthy for people under pressure to express repressed feelings," Dally said.

Only a small share of people in this mainly Muslim country visit nightclubs. But at one busy club whose name means 'Violet Corner' in Arabic, waiters squeeze themselves around tables crowded with customers and women who work as lap dancers.   Continued...