Beauty salons flourishing in safer Baghdad

Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:42am EDT
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Every month college student Zahraa Ali joins the growing number of Iraqi women treating themselves to hair, health and beauty therapies that a few years ago were the stuff of daydreams.

As Iraq's violence ebbs and Baghdad life stabilizes, hair salons, gyms and beauty centers are starting to flourish again in the capital, bringing back a touch of glamour lost during the country's bloody sectarian strife following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the preceding economic sanctions in the 1990s.

"We were deprived because of security, and these centers were not even available. But now it is becoming normal again," said Ali, sitting with strands of her hair wrapped in foil at a Baghdad salon.

Baghdad's streets were more dangerous just a few years ago, at the height of Shi'ite-Sunni sectarian violence in 2006-2007, when bombings, assassinations and attacks brought the country close to civil war.

Bombings and attacks have dropped sharply more than eight years after the invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, and the country is slowly rebuilding its economy with revenues generated by its recovering oil industry.

Attacks by Sunni Islamist insurgents and radical Shi'ite militias still occur daily, and Iraqis also struggle with massive power shortages, dilapidated infrastructure and a frustrating lack of basic services.

But hairdressers, beauty experts and cosmetic surgeons who fled the country or left for the more stable semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq are now returning to re-establish businesses and tap into the capital's demands.

For Ahmed Murad, who runs a lavish salon in the upscale Harthiya district near the fortified Green Zone, more and more Iraqi women are these days are relishing a chance to indulge themselves.   Continued...

<p>A woman applies lipstick at a beauty parlour in Baghdad September 21, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer</p>