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Iraqis Opting for Body Art Rather than Morbid ‘Identity Tattoos’

In 2007, 28-year-old Baghdad resident Firas Adil Saadi got a tattoo. The ornate marking on his right shoulder wasn't an aesthetic decision. Saadi explained the tattoo to an Los Angeles Times reporter:

"The idea came to me after seeing these daily incidents during which some corpses are mutilated and distorted, some were even headless, and the fact that the identity cards are either lost or destroyed," said Saadi, a trader who works in Baghdad's Shorja market, which has suffered numerous bombings. "Even the water of the firefighting equipment is destroying them, so I thought about an irremovable identity card, which is the tattoo."

In those days, identity tattoos were something of a trend. Today, according to a report by IRIN, a news agency affiliated with the United Nations, identity tattoos are on the decline but tattoos of the decorative variety, though they are taboo to many in Iraq, are still in demand:

“Few people were interested in getting a tattoo for the look of it during 2005, 2006 and 2007 as their aim was only to put a mark on themselves to help their families identify their bodies if they were found mutilated,” Abdu, a Baghdad tattoo artist, told IRIN on condition that his full name not be mentioned for his safety.

Today, Abdu said few men come to him for that reason while many youngsters are seeking tattoos for purely decorative reasons. He said he charges US$10 to $200 for all kinds of artwork, such as images of dragons, snakes, tigers, hawks and hearts.

However, Abdu continues to keep a low profile for fear of being attacked by extremists who see his work as being prohibited by Islam or too westernised.

“Turnout is high, but our work is still limited to close friends and people we trust,” said Abdu, a 28-year-old Christian who learned his art as a refugee in Lebanon when he fled there in 2004. On his return to Iraq, he decided against opening his own tattoo studio and instead operates out of a friend’s tailoring shop.

Source: IRIN, Los Angeles Times