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With members of the Baathist government and security agencies as regular customers, prostitutes in Baghdad were assured protection as well as payment for their services. After the fall of the regime in , that protection disappeared and angry residents across Baghdad took matters into their own hands, forcing prostitutes out of their neighbourhoods.
In summer last year, people in the Abu Ghraib district west of Baghdad destroyed homes in a nearby gypsy encampment, where they said prostitution had been rife under the Baathists. While residents feel they are acting in the best interests of their community, the typical methods employed to deal with the issue are heavy handed. Tales of prostitutes being beaten or threatened with violence to get them to move away are commonplace.
In one of the most extreme cases that IWPR heard about, a group of residents in the al-Khaleej district of Baghdad called in the Mahdi Army, the militia force loyal to firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, to expel a family who were said to be prostituting their children. But even with such negative attitudes towards prostitution, the basic principles of supply and demand mean that the trade still pays.
Many say they were shunned by their families for having sex out of wedlock or some other social misdemeanour. Others were forced into it in an attempt to support themselves and their families.
Nadia Mahmood, a bleached blonde originally from the Kurdish region, works in the red light district of Bataween, where brothels are still in business. I got desperate under the [United Nations] sanctions and I begged store owners to give me credit. I have to pay the rent and provide for my kids.