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A look at the Iraqi hospitality industry

A big seller in Iraq
A big seller in Iraq
Photo by Craig Barritt

Alcohol in Iraq is something that most people don't believe ever existed in the country. When you ask someone who served over in Iraq in the US military and you ask them if they were allowed to drink any alcohol you will get mostly the same answer a very outstanding no; however, Non-Alcoholic beer was around in some areas of the country and yes, some of the US Military got it smuggled over from the states. But there was no sign of a alcohol culture anywhere in the country.
The truth of the matter is that during the early 1990's , when Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had extremely strong prohibition polices on alcohol as well as other countries in the middle east. Alcohol in Iraq could be found in most restaurants and nightclubs as well as in liquor stores. The legal age in Iraq for drinking alcohol was 18 and but it is now a drinking age of 21.
When Saddam Hussein came in to power he made alcohol laws so extreme that if a Iraqi drank any alcohol it had to be at home and Muslims were banned to sell alcohol at all, making it so the few other religions were left to sell alcohol.
Today selling alcohol can be a dangerous business; however, a echo of the pass can be felt when it is now legal to buy alcohol from a store and drink it in public, not just at home. But you do hear of attacks on liquor stores most commonly in the Baghdad area.
To show how dangerous it is to sell alcohol as a vendor in Iraq, one attack that stands out is when gunmen went in to nine different liquor stores with silenced weapons and killed 12 people. Another attack a car bomb went off in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk outside a liquor store wounding 17 and killing seven people stated from medical officials.
One problem is that of the ISIS fighter in Iraq today they hope to bring the country back to a state of where Saddam Hussein had it and many of their laws they want to make legal affect the Iraqi Hospitality industry greatly.

The ISIS fighters in Iraq have ten different laws they want to start:
1. Women are told they should not go outside unless necessary, because their place is to provide stability at home
2. They must wear full, wide Islamic dress
3. Stealing or looting will result in amputation of limbs
4. Criminals can be crucified
5. Muslims must participate in group prayers at mosques
6. Muslims will be well treated, unless they are allied with oppressors
7. Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are banned
8. Police and Military officers will be given chance to repent ( they have sided with oppressors)
9. Apostasy is punishable by death and carrying flags, expect those of Islamic state is not allowed
10. Graves and shrines are forbidden and will be destroyed.

Some of these laws you can see do not deal with the hospitality industry, but many others due and would be a huge blow to alcohol sales in the country. When you look at the drinking culture in Iraq you find some things that are the same such as the tipping of your local server or bartender is 10 to 15%. There are other things though that are a little bit different then what other cultures are used to though.
Such as some of the food specialties that you are going to find that are paired with your alcohol, some of these that you should try to seek out are:

  • Dolma - this is vine leaves, cabbage, onions, marrow or cucumbers stuffed with rice and meat with an assortment of spices
  • Tikka - this is small chunks of mutton on skewers grilled on a charcoal fire
  • Quozi - this is small lamb boiled whole and grilled, then stuffed with rice
  • Masgouf - This is a local fish from the Tigris and usually cooked right on the river bank

Most places in Iraq have waiter service and most restaurants, bars and nightclubs even have a number of imported beers for you to buy; though, during the month of Ramadan if you want to drink alcohol you either need to stock up on your at home bar or you need to buy it on the black market.
You still can't be a Muslim in the country and sell alcohol, but it is a far better place then back in the Saddam Hussein days. The most popular drinks that sell in Iraq right now are Arak ( which is a date flavored liquor) and Johnny Walker Black Label.
When you take a look at the local Arak you find that it is around 50% Abv. and around 80 proof. The taste of the drink is that of a clear and colorless distilled beverage. You can also find it in other countries, most notability Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Turkey and Iran.
Arak is most commonly mixed with water and ice to make a cocktail mixture. Most Arak drinkers like to drink it with food, BBQ is very popular, as well as drinking it with any food that may have garlic in it. There are two major brands in Iraq of Arak in the country,

  • Asriyah
  • Tayyara

Both of these companies Asriyah and Tayyara make their beverage in roughly the same way, the distillation process starts with grapes and the vines usually have to be a very golden color to have them harvest. This is usually done in the late September and October months. It is then put into a copper or steel pot and distilled a number of times. After that process it is aged in clay amphora's and served to the general public.
All of the major restaurants in Baghdad will have Arak, but if you were worried on the food choices that you are going to have to make you don't need to be.

They have a number of different styles
1) American
2) Dessert only
3) Fusion style
4) Japanese
5) Sushi houses
6) Local (of course)
7) Italian
8) Chinese
9) Turkish

As you can see there are a number of different food styles that you can choose from in Iraq to go along with your beverage of choice and there are hundreds of establishments you can choose from.

The top fifteen places to eat in Baghdad right now are:

1. Ice Pack (Italian)
2. Mazaya (Chinese and Italian)
3. Beston sammad (local)
4. Al-Areesha Restaurant (local)
5. The Kebab House (local)
6. Aroma Restaurant (Italian)
7. Pizza Pizza (American and Italian)
8. Stella 62 (This places has a number of different types of International cuisine)
9. Abduullah ( American)
10. Almankal Albaghdadi (local)
11. Giolli's Cafe and Pizzeria (Italian)
12. Dojo's (local and Italian)
13. Coral Restaurant (This places has a number of different types of International cuisine)
14. Burger Joint (American cuisine)
15. Bosphorus Restaurant (Turkish)

One thing that does need to be stated if you plan on going to Iraq any time soon the US State Department warns all its US Citizens not to travel to Iraq given the security problems the country is currently facing at the time. The travel warning by the US State of Department dated January 19, 2012 states that all of the United States of American military has been withdrawn from the country and that the embassy has very little power in the country to help you out if you have a problem when you are traveling there.
Even though the US State Department has this travel warning the fact of the matter is that we know have a list of restaurants in Iraq, we now have a type of alcohol that Iraq can be proud of and that they can develop as their own. This is a good start.
They still may have problems with such things as ISIS, but other countries that were just starting out had their own had things like civil wars and other major problems to deal with as well. Life in Iraq is not perfect, but by taking a look at the hospitability industry in Iraq, we see that the country of Iraq does have some hope for itself in the future and the country itself will get better.
If you look at the facts on what people can do as tourist to a country you see that when Iraq becomes a safer country to travel if they keep up what they are doing they can use the tourism industry to become a much stronger country. In the United States of America one out of every seventeen Americans work either directly or indirectly with a tourism related industry and make the industry a 1.5 trillion dollar business in the country alone.
Is this is something that the United States of America can do to help its country out, then it is easy to see what it can do for a country like Iraq. Iraq may not be in its best days ever, but it has better days to come. Drink safe and Eat well.