Blood and ouzo in Baghdad

GreekOuzoA one-question test: When you hear the word "ouzo," what leaps to mind? Right. Dancing Greeks who are celebrating something, or simply life in general.

So I was a bit concerned when I read the top of that New York Times story from Baghdad that ran with the headline "Iraq Bomber Aimed at Alcohol Sellers."

Blood and ouzo mingled on the sidewalk outside a shattered Baghdad liquor store on Thursday after three people were killed in a car bombing directed at alcohol sellers in one of Baghdad's most heavily protected areas.

The alcohol sellers, who have expanded their business as security in Baghdad has improved in recent months, were among the few merchants plying their trade during the Muslim holiday celebrating Id al-Adha, the end of the hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

I assumed that there was going to be a major ghost in this story. Actually, there were several potential ghosts in the story and, frankly, I assumed that reporter Stephen Farrell would miss them.

The first, of course, is that one of the lines between "moderate" Muslims and traditional Muslims in a land like Iraq is the consumption of alcohol. We have talked about this here at GetReligion before. In a way, this ghost was the actual subject of the story.

But the bombers were almost certainly focusing on another kind of target. And that is the ghost I was afraid the Times would miss.

But I was wrong. Near the end of the piece we read:

Most of these businesses, residents say, are run by enterprising Yazidis, members of a Kurdish-speaking sect. Iraq's Yazidis live mainly in the northwest, and their faith combines elements of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and includes a Peacock Angel.

Residents say the Yazidis capitalized on the past few months of relative stability to take over the liquor stores in this area. Christians once dominated the trade locally but fled to escape death threats and kidnappings by religious militants.

Mustafa Hassan, 19, a grocery stall owner, said the blast walls and checkpoints installed in the neighborhood to protect American contractors and the nearby Palestine Hotel had fostered the mushrooming alcohol sector. He said that over the past year the number of liquor stores had increased to 30 from 5.

That covers it all, although with few specifics to make the scope of the tragedy clear. In other words, the ouzo is a sign of several Western values -- not all of them good, mind you -- that remain under attack. Actually, it's hard to call the Greeks and the other Eastern churches "Western," but I think you get my point.

Farrell saw the ghosts. A tragic story, well told.

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