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Selling Alcohol in Baghdad is a Dangerous Business, Says Armenian Vendor

Selling alcohol in Baghdad is a dangerous business, with liquor store workers facing bombings, shootings and robberies, while also being separated from their families, who often live elsewhere, AFP reports.

But a dearth of other jobs keeps Baghdad’s liquor stores staffed.

There are 96 registered alcohol shops in Baghdad province, its governor Salah Abdel Razak told AFP, plus an unknown number of unlicensed liquor stores.

During July and August, there were at least 30 attacks against Iraqi alcohol shops, with about five occurring in the southern port city of Basra and the remainder in Baghdad, according to an interior ministry official, who said the figures may include multiple attacks against the same shop.

Asked who he thinks are behind the attacks on alcohol shops in Baghdad, its governor Abdel Razak said that “in my opinion, there are some people who have ideological or moral motives that make them attack these shops.”

A number of Iraq citizens in the business of selling alcohol spoke to AFP about their trials and tribulations — including one Armenian named Sarkis, “a long-time member of the alcohol-selling profession, having worked in the trade since around 1976, when he was only 18,” AFP reports.

The alcohol distribution business where he works in central Baghdad is surrounded by high metal walls, giving it a fortress-like appearance.

The compound also includes a small shop that sells to individual customers, which has metal bars extending from the counter-top to the ceiling, and looks more like a bunker than a normal store.

There are good reasons for the precautions — one night in 2006, masked gunmen armed with pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles attacked the company, killing one of its workers, Sarkis said.

A guard fired on the attackers, but there were too many of them, he said.

The following year, armed men in civilian clothes overwhelmed a guard and then set about destroying the company’s goods, causing at least $200,000 dollars in damage.

Afterwards, the company was closed for about a year and a half, Sarkis said.

“In reality, I cannot work in another job,” he said, noting conditions in Iraq make it difficult to find work.

Sarkis supports his five children and wife with his 1.2 million Iraqi dinar ($1,025) monthly salary, he said.

They live in Dohuk province in the relatively stable Kurdistan area of north Iraq, where he moved them from Baghdad in 2004 due to security fears. He gets to see them for roughly 10 days every two months.

Sarkis would like to leave his job, or better yet, the country.

“It would be good to leave this job,” he said. But “what I have in mind is leaving Iraq.”