Blue Movies Proliferate in Post-Saddam Iraq
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Outside the cinemas on Saadoun Street,
groups of men loiter round film posters of naked women, whose
private parts are crudely super-imposed with underwear drawn in
Behind doors in Baghdad's main movie strip, there is no
Barely a seat is empty as hundreds of men, most puffing
cigarettes, sit in total silence and darkness to enjoy scenes
of nudity and sex for 1,000 Iraqi dinars ($0.50) a time.
"Under Saddam, forget it. You would go to jail for showing
or watching this," said movie-watcher Mohammed Jassim at the
Atlas Cinema where one of the films on offer was disturbingly
named "Real Raping."
The fall of Saddam Hussein liberalised Iraq's cinema
Pornographic movies which had circulated only secretly
before suddenly came into the open. The smuggling of films from
abroad became overt importing. And demand has proved high
despite Iraq's strict Muslim morals.
With no Ministry of Information censorship department to
get round any more, most Baghdad cinemas are now showing
primarily "romantic" and "sexy" films as Iraqis euphemistically
call soft- and hard-core movies respectively.
The few places trying to maintain respectability have been
forced to mix their bill to include a few crowd-pulling blue
movies to cover costs.
"We feel bitter and disgusted to show such pictures because
this cinema has always shown good films. But if we don't, there
is no money to pay our wages and rent," said Isaam Abdul
Kareem, who has taken tickets for 20 years at Baghdad's
prestigious Semiramis cinema.
"Just 50 people a day come in for good films. Hundreds come
for the 'romantic' ones. We must go with the market."
The open proliferation of mainly U.S. and European-made
porno films, and the pavement posters advertising them, has
shocked Iraq's religious leaders.
They hope the novelty factor will wear off and a new Iraqi
government -- which the postwar U.S.-led occupiers are
struggling to get in place -- will re-impose restrictions such
as age-limits for cinemas and a ban on nudity.
"SINFUL" CINEMAS THREATENED
"A revolution or a big change like the one we had with the
end of Saddam is like a flood," said Mohammed Saleh Al-Ubaidi,
a 73-year-old Sunni Muslim imam whose Baghdad mosque is a
stone's throw from Saadoun Street.
"It brings a lot of trash and wood with it, but then soon
after clear water comes. That is what we hope for Iraq...Under
Saddam, there was prohibition only. Now there must be
Some among the majority Shi'ite Muslim community are
already taking matters into their own hands.
In the mainly Shi'ite south, for example, Basra's three
cinemas closed for two weeks after young men on motorbikes
turned up warning that if they showed "sinful" movies they
would be burned down.
When they re-opened, sex was off the agenda and it was back
to Arabic movies and U.S. action films -- the staple of prewar
One cinema manager, who asked not to be named for fear of
provoking the clerics, recounted the dangerous games he used to
play under Saddam.
"We had to take films for approval to the Ministry of
Information, where they could say 'no' or cut out the bad
parts," he said. "But we paid bribes to keep the hot shots in.
Or, if they cut them out anyway, we would go somewhere else to
buy them and put them back in again."
Now operating freely, his Baghdad cinema was plastered with
raunchy posters of U.S. sex symbol Pamela Anderson and pop star
Christina Aguilera. On show were the film version of British
author D.H. Lawrence's explicit novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover"
and a seedy-looking Italian film "Love, Pleasure and Romance."
Faris Sami, who owns a shop selling films on CDs --
including a fair sprinkling of "romantic" and "sexy" films --
is worried about the corrupting effect on teenagers and would
like to see some restrictions back.
But he is relieved not to be running the same risks as
before when he and his business partner would secretly sell sex
films to trusted clients and friends.
"Uday (Saddam's son) had a big campaign a couple of years
ago. They put my partner in jail for three months," Sami said
in his Baghdad shop. "For them, everything was allowed. For the
people, everything prohibited."
© Copyright Reuters Ltd.