BAGHDAD – Officials in the southern Iraqi province of Basra have lifted a four-month-old ban on alcohol in a move hailed as an affirmation of personal freedoms in the country's second-largest city, a provincial spokesman said Tuesday.
The spokesman for the Basra provincial council, Hashim Aleibi, said the decision came after opponents argued the ban violated constitutional rights for personal choice and denied non-Muslims the ability to buy and consume liquor.
It also showed the weakened voice of Shiite hard-liners who held control over much of Basra until an Iraqi-led offensive in early 2008. During the Shiite militia rule, merchants who sold liquor and other Western products were often targeted for attack or harassment and were forced into underground trade.
The booze ban took effect in August in the province. Even prior to the ruling, though, alcohol was difficult to obtain.
Aleibi claimed the ban was imposed without the backing of the head of the provincial council, who was outside the country at the time.
Prior to the 1990 Gulf War, the port city of Basra was known for its freewheeling ways and was a frequent destination for residents of neighboring Kuwait, where alcohol is banned.
In October, alcohol also was outlawed in the province of Najaf, which has some of the holiest Shiite sites in Iraq.
Alcohol is available in most Iraqi cities in stores generally owned by Christians. But some liquor stores have been attacked by religious extremists.