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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 colored pen.

Behind doors in Baghdad's main movie strip, there is no such teasing.

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 industry overnight.

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.


"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 persuasion too."

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 cinema bills.

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.


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 For archive purposes, this article is being stored on website

The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.

    Depleted Uranium         ‘War Circus’    

      Israel, Palestine        War photos