- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2005

BAGHDAD — Baghdadis headed to the barbershop are going more often to the Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City than to mixed neighborhoods, where they could be shot by Sunni radicals who charge that clean shaven men want to look like U.S. soldiers.

“I have customers coming from far away,” said Ali Habin, who was happy to see his barbershop packed with customers.

“Young men are coming from remote neighborhoods like Shaab and Ur, where there have been attacks targeting barbershops.”

Northwestern Sadr City is solidly Shi’ite, and even Sunni insurgents don’t dare venture there.

All Muslim clerics, including Shi’ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, say that shaving goes against Islamic law, but there have been no attacks in Shi’ite areas.

According to Dubai-based Al Arabiya television, Arabs spend $110 million a year at the barbershop and own 697 million razors of all kinds.

“Recently, there has been an increase in the number of attacks against barbershops, to the extent that it has become a daily occurrence, and we have to look for safer places,” said Ammar Qassem, 20, who was halfway through a shave.

“In one day, four barbers were killed and others decided to close shop to avoid the same fate,” said Mr. Qassem, who lives in the nearby Ashaab neighborhood.

In a shop that measures a minuscule 86 square feet, six other waiting clients nod in approval, and the barber did not hesitate to lay the blame at the feet of Salafists, or Sunni religious hard-liners.

“Those who carry out the attacks belong to Ansar al-Sunna or Wahhabi groups that are very active in the neighborhoods of Al-Jazair, Ashaab and Hay al-Ur,” he charged.

The al Qaeda-linked Army of Ansar al-Sunna is one of a number of insurgent groups reported to have taken part in talks with U.S. representatives last month, although Internet statements posted in its name have denied it.

The strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam is the official religion of neighboring Saudi Arabia and provides inspiration for some of the militants fighting the Iraqi government and its U.S. backers.

Such is the terror in Baghdad that it is now common to see signs that say: “We apologize for not shaving beards or removing facial hair.”

“I put this sign up after one of my friends in the same street was threatened. I’ve decided to quit shaving beards or removing facial hair to save my life, as well as those of my customers. I only cut hair, said Muhannad Ali Sahib, who owns a barbershop in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Zaiyunah.

According to an Interior Ministry official, at least 20 barbers have been assassinated in areas like Shaab, Bayaa, Saidiyah and Baghdad al-Jadeeda over the past two months.

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