Photos by Nina Khoshnoudi
llah never smiled on street walking. Under Iraq’s former Baathist regime, being a prostitute was seriously risky business. If caught soliciting or even being suspected of plying your trade, a hooker would face jail, with death commonly used as a demonstrative tool. In 2000, Saddam ordered the public beheading of 200 women, forcing all local sex-workers to join brothels in neighbouring Jordan and Syria.
Now, with 75 percent unemployment among Iraqi youth (mainly due to the US government disarming the Iraqi army—the country’s main employer), the onus to provide has fallen upon women. With a society forced beyond the breaking point, their own values disintegrated under sanctions and occupation, combined with what has essentially become a US judicial system espousing Western values, local prostitution is back.
More importantly, the influx of American contractors and military officials has brought the cash to allow scenes like the above on Baghdad’s Karada Street to become a regular fixture in the visiting Westerner’s Iraq experience. The Lebanese businessmen who run this compound started out as small-time hustlers selling Viagra in Beirut but their entrepreneurial streak has led them east through Afghanistan into Iraq. They have created a secure escape from the reality they continue to exploit filled with fine wines, Cohibas, swimming pools and whores.
The girls lure the Western money in and it is swiftly relieved from uniformed pockets by obliging, nubile Iraqi girls as young as 14 who are more than happy to shut up, bend over and occasionally laugh sweetly. Repeat business is common and girls can earn anything up to $2,500 a month. While the growing practice is condemned by resurgent Islamic clerical elements, it shows no sign of abating and is certainly keeping these Lebanese fellas in funny smelling aftershave for the foreseeable future.